“Wonka,” the newest addition to the series of movies based on Roald Dahl’s beloved book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” approaches the plot differently compared to its predecessors but plummets into a cliché, overused, and boring storyline. The movie was released in theaters on December 15 of 2023 and features Timothée Chalamet as the title character. Showcasing the origin story of chocolatier Willy Wonka, the film follows him on his journey to establish a chocolate store in the Galeries Gourmet. He is met with obstacles such as the corrupt Chocolate Cartel, which has a monopoly on the entire town’s chocolate, and the conniving Mrs. Scrubitt (Olivia Colman). In his attempts to sell chocolate, he also forms friendships with others that he meets along the way, such as a young girl named Noodle (Calah Lane). You can assume how the movie ends. The 116-minute PG-rated movie is great for younger kids, employing colorful sets, catchy songs, and comical characters, but is far weaker in engaging a more mature group of audience.
“Wonka” noticeably deviates from the backstory for Willy Wonka established in the 2001 film, and instead creates a whole new plotline. Originally, Wonka’s dentist father, who forbade him from having candy, was the reason he became a candymaker. In the newest installation, Wonka’s mother, a kind and loving woman who died when he was young, led him to his future career. This change makes for a far more sentimental backstory, but the “dead mother” trope is too cliché for my liking and has already been used in practically every other children’s movie. On the other hand, the plotline of the 2001 film has some humor and unexpectedness to it, yet still maintains a sense of sentimentality when Wonka reunites with his estranged father. These blatant cliches are everywhere in the 2023 “Wonka,” with another being the “almost dying but being saved at the last second” moment. Within the first few minutes of the movie, you already know how it’s going to end because it’s just that predictable.
The character of Noodle was also a new addition to the story — one that was not needed. She fills the typical role of a “sidekick” to Wonka, and that’s pretty much it. Her character is not fleshed out, is uninteresting, and makes no connection with the audience. Even the parts of her storyline that are supposed to be important, like her family background and ties to the Chocolate Cartel, don’t seem all that jaw-dropping. Instead, it turned out to be a poor and random attempt at complicating the tale.
Timothée Chalamet, who is usually an exceptional actor, fails to portray the whimsical, and eccentric nature expected of Willy Wonka. Even though he is meant to be a younger, somewhat less wacky version of his older self, Chalamet seems rather bland. I applaud the way he executes the more emotional scenes, but I cringe when he’s merely reading his lines in a goofy voice in a scene that’s meant to be funny and surprising. His jokes fall flat, and the quirky nature of Willy Wonka doesn’t make it through the screen, compared to Johnny Depp in the 2001 version. Chalamet was not the best choice for Wonka and seems more like a flashy big-name actor to get people to watch the movie.
The biggest of “Wonka” successes is its minor characters. Keegan-Michael Key in the role of a police officer with a crippling chocolate addiction is one of the few funny people to watch on the screen, as well as Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, and Mathew Baynton who play the roles of the Chocolate Cartel. Hugh Grant plays an Oompa Loompa, a character who is amusing mostly because he is Hugh Grant’s face on a tiny, orange, green-haired man. Wonka’s companions from the laundromat were also great additions to the movie. Sadly, none of these good characters could save the movie because they got so little screen time. The set design was spot on, depicting a fantastical candyland and a “world of your imagination” while still maintaining enough realism to stay true to the story.
Overall, “Wonka” receives 2 out of 5 stars. It feels like an unnecessary prequel that no one really asked for. The lead actors are not particularly exceptional, and the plot is predictable. It tries to do something different but strays too far from a beloved story that was already adapted to not one, but two movies, both of which set a high bar for this third attempt. By shooting high, “Wonka” had a harder fall down.