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REVIEW: ‘Wonka’ is a magical musical film that gets you into the holiday spirit

By Jerald Uy Published Dec 07, 2023 7:56 pm

While the last two adaptations were bordering on child abuse and occupational hazards—all calling for a revocation of the chocolate factory’s operations permit, Wonka (2023) retells the Roald Dahl classic with a kinder and younger candyman (Timothée Chalamet). This time, the multihyphenate magician-inventor-chocolatier faces hurdles to starting his business, a dream he’s longing to achieve so he can see his mother one last time.

This deviation from the source material, the 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is a brilliant way to introduce the character to the younger generations with different sensibilities. In retrospect, the eccentric, anti-child Willy Wonka portrayed by Gene Wilder (1971) and Johnny Depp (2005) glorify violence towards children, which is a toned-down version of Jigsaw’s punishments from the Saw movies. They were mainly cautionary tales that told the young audience that if they didn’t follow orders, something bad would happen to them. 

The prototype chocolate packaging was designed by Willy Wonka's late mother.

A Variety report said Wonka is the prequel to the original, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). I’d rather want this to be set in another universe or a reboot because the new iteration is compassionate towards children and is driven by guilt when it causes them harm. There is a disconnect between the two films. 

Still, the movie takes us back to the timeless songs from the Gene Wilder classic. Chalamet performs a heartfelt rendition of Pure Imagination, juxtaposed with a pivotal scene involving a new character, Noodle. Hugh Grant is now shrunk into an Oompa-Loompa named Lofty. His theater background comes out with his whimsical cover of Oompa Loompa, entertaining audiences as the credits roll.

Hugh Grant plays Lofty, an Oompa-Loompa frenemy of Willy Wonka.

A new song that stands out is A World of Your Own, which aptly starts with Wonka welcoming an old man to his chocolate store. This takes us back to our childhood, whichever Wonka movie we grew up watching. Too bad the official soundtrack is not yet out but the tracks all fit the whimsical world of Willy Wonka.

Wonka has a strong supporting cast that does each of their parts excellently. Sketch shows veteran Keegan-Michael Key is funny whenever he pops up as the corrupt, chief of police who takes chocolates for bribes. Just looking at Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame as a chocoholic priest is also a riot. Olivia Colman does her job well as an opportunistic motel and laundromat owner.

One of the biggest surprises of 2023, Wonka works well with Chalamet’s unbridled charm that complements the right amount of eccentricity in the direction and writing of Paul King, the man behind the hit comedy flick Paddington. If you aren’t feeling the holiday spirit yet, make sure to watch Wonka on the big screen before the local film festival kicks off.

Wonka opens in Philippine cinemas on Dec. 6. Stay for a mid-credits scene. Watch the trailer below.