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Film: Wonka
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carter, Natasha Rothwell, Rich Fulcher, Rakhee Thakrar, Tom Davis and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.
Director: Paul King
Rating: 3.5/5
Runtime: 116 mins

Director Paul King and Warner Bros. attempt to give Willy an origin story that is inventive and distinctive enough from 1971’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, while still retaining the sparkling charm and humor of that film. Willy as a much younger teen with dreams of opening a shop in a city renowned for its chocolate, in a prequel of sorts, makes better sense. And why not? With the delightful Timothée Chalamet taking on the eponymous role and giving you a sugar rush of the never-experienced-before kind, they couldn’t have gone wrong. Of course, Roald Dahl’s original story continues to resonate through this delightfully succulent musical entertainer.  Writer-director Paul King’s re-imagining of the world of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Timothée Chalamet as the heart and soul of Wonka is a dazzling musical fantasy anchored by the the actor’s undeniable charm.

A young Willy Wonka ( Chalamet) arrives at the place his late mother (Sally Hawkins, seen in flashback) always talked about – the famous Gallery Gourmet in London. Wonka wishes to make his mark on the world, but with his meagre pennies, a few belongings, a portable chocolate making station and an overly generous heart,  he finds himself unable to afford lodging. Willy is tricked into signing a contract for staying at a hotel which expects him to be indentured as labour and prevents him from leaving. So he has no alternative but to seek Noodle’s (Calah Lane) help to sneak out during the day to share his chocolate with the locals. But before people begin to realize his products are far better than those of the local “Chocolate Cartel” constituting Arthur Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Prodnose (Matt Lucas), and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton), the latter trio bribe the Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key) to prevent him from making his mark. There’s also a small orange man with green hair, Hugh Grant as the scene-stealing Oompa Loompa, stealthily taking away his wondrous confections.

The ensuing narrative is an enjoyable series of romps through numerous infectious, beautifully performed musical numbers and delicately choreographed dance sequences that are imaginatively out-of-this world. The opening song’s lyrics makes a mention of Bombay, highlighting Dahl’s connection with India and the other numbers, including Timothee Chalamet and Calah Lane’s musical number on top of a building and ‘Oompah Loompah doompety do,’ – all replete with festive colors and details, conveying a Christmas ambience. The script co-written by Simon Farnaby may seem quite simplistic but the many nods to classics past and present lend it enough weightiness. The few minor flaws get overshadowed by the brilliantly cast, cheeky performers who give this frothy confection a lightness of being with Timothée Chalamet right at the centre. Filmmaker Paul King’s jabs at the elite and corrupt that includes the cartel, the police chief , the hotel owner and her seedy paramour whom she believes to be royalty, are pretty much cliched. Their evil is funnily orchestrated, allowing the audience to revel in their behavioral ticks. The clear-cut goodness of Wonka and his partners stands-out so there’s no confusion. As a result, the audience can’t help but be in Willy Wonka’s pocket.

Timothée Chalamet simply enchants us with his note-perfect performance and effortless singing. The ensemble cast of brilliant actors, including Jim Carter, Tom Davis, Natasha Rothwell, Rich Fulcher, Rakhee Thakrar, Hugh Grant, Rowan Atkinson, Olivia Colman and newcomer Calah Lane as Noodle, Wonka’s younger partner in crime, lend shine, sparkle, infectious energy and vitality to the experience. ‘Wonka’ is beautifully constructed with wonderful help from Neil Hannon’s original songs, Nathan Crowley’s unstinting production design and Linda Hemmings’s lovely costumes, allowing for an experience as sumptuous and delightful as the treats featured onscreen.

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