“Wonka” is a sweet cinematic treat

Published 1:11 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Dancing across the screen this week, in flamboyant color and music is “Wonka,” a charming reimagining of the beloved Roald Dahl character, Willy Wonka. 

Unlike the other iterations of Mr. Wonka, this story is not adapted directly from Dahl’s 1964 book “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory,” but instead it is an origin story, adapting the character to a newly written and conceived narrative arc. This film finds Wonka as a young man, poor in pocket but rich in talent and dreams, before he ascended to the later heights of confectionery celebrity.

Bringing this younger version of Wonka to life is the aptly boyish and twinkly-eyed Timothee Chalamet, who does so with earnest hopefulness and passion. This interpretation of the character is of course in stark contrast to Gene Wilder’s famous performance, who inhabited the chocolatier with a weary, jaded and mischievously malevolent quality; an almost mythic trickster. Chalamet’s Wonka, in his youthful enthusiasm, is a closer mirror to Charlie, full of wonder and seeing limitless potential to the passion derived from the edible art of candy. 

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While the titular character’s interpretation differs from the original 1971 film, many of the thematic and world-building currents from that film similarly run through this new adaptation. Firstly, this film is a musical, with numerous song and dance numbers interspersed throughout, creating an energy befitting of a sugar rush, bubbly and bright. The sets too embrace this technicolor world, each shot as richly adorned and colorful as an everlasting gobstopper. 

 

The film’s conflict is largely centered around Wonka’s struggle to open a chocolate shop in the renowned Galleries Gourmet. Wonka is a newcomer to this foreign land, with brilliant talent and creativity, but lacking the capital to make his dreams a reality. While Wonka is himself a cheerful idealist, he finds the other personalities in the chocolate game to be conniving, colluding and even downright cruel—a “candy cartel” as the film calls it. He truly has his work cut out for him if he is to fulfill his dream of opening a shop. But even young Wonka is yet unaware of the station to which he will one day rise: the greatest candymaker the world has ever known. 

At the helm of this film is the paramount best director to capture childhood whimsy and charm, without sacrificing storytelling. That director is Paul King, perhaps best known for his recent live-action Paddington films. The second of these films, “Paddington 2” (2017), is an unironically magnificent film, truly worth any audience’s time, irrespective of age. King has similarly succeeded here with “Wonka,” punctuating sweet and silly humor throughout a well-woven emotional thread of story. By all accounts “Wonka” is a saccharine film, but one that won’t leave you nauseous from too much of a good thing, no matter your age. 

If any film is befitting of being overly sweet and precious, would it not be a film about a chocolatier? 

“Wonka” will run for two weeks (playing January 10 through January 21, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays as usual). We hope you will join us and indulge in a bite of cinematic candy with “Wonka”!