With none of the whimsy we've come to expect of Wonka, this backstory tries to delve into things that may be best left alone.

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I’m not sure what this film adds to this franchise. It feels like it has good intentions, and there’s a love for the source material that shines through, sure, but lacked in the execution. Then again, it’s hard to add anything new and interesting to a film that peaked in the 70s.

Tim Burton took at shot at the IP with his gothic mercurial CEO of a chocolate factory. While I think Depp did play that particular character faithfully (cringe as it was), it’s not something we needed in the canon.

Maybe the problem (with both adaptations) is that the “premise is built on peeling back the layers of a character whose best quality is being shrouded in mystery”.

As we’ve seen before, not all characters improve with a huge canon backstory info-dump. And here we’ve got another one. Though, I don’t think anyone really wants to know how Willy Wonka became Willy Wonka. The beauty of Willy Wonka is in that he just is.

I was disappointed in what Chalamet brought to the role, as I’ve enjoyed his performances previously. But when I think back on which roles I really liked him in, I have to admit they’re more sombre.

I think the most playful role I’ve ever seen him was as Laurie in Little Women, but even there he was more petulant and sarcastic (and, yes, I’m aware that Laurie’s character is a petulant little fop). In The King, any humour came from the character being so serious, rather from any true displays of levity.

As I watched Wonka, I felt let down by the lack of whimsy.

Every time I feel like he’s trying to channel passion, it comes out… aggressive and… angry and… and mentally unstable, somehow, rather than the magical, whimsical joy the visual language of the film keeps telling me it should be.

Sure, Chalamet can hold a tune better than me (with autotune anyone can, right?) and step to a choreography, but it didn’t feel like those moments came from within the character itself, as an outward expression of his internal emotional state, or whimsy that just couldn’t be contained anymore.

It felt more like Chalamet showed up and did what he was told to do, but he was only doing it to get out of doing it as fast as possible. (It’s not a good look when the backup dancers upstage the principal with just chorus choreography.)

Here’s a character that is so in love with life (or so desperately chasing being that in love with life, we don’t really want to know, do we? Not to mention that if we take one critical look at his factory, we can surmise much!) that he creates a magical factory to churn out wonderful delights to cheer and comfort people. A man that faints a forward face-plant just for the entertainment factor.

He even sends out golden tickets to admit a rare few, promising “mystic and marvellous surprises that will entice, delight, intrigue, astonish and perplex you beyond measure”. There’s clearly a lot of showmanship which is innate to this character, but it feels forced in Wonka.

But from the first musical numbers, I didn’t feel delighted or intrigued by Willy Wonka. I mostly felt bored.

And maybe that’s the crux of this film? It wasn’t even bad enough to make me angry. I was just bored as my hope for any true whimsy diminished.

So, if we accept that the allure of Willy Wonka is in not being able to tell if he’s telling a truth or a lie, would this film have been better explored through the point of view of the auxiliary characters?

Set it up so that they have problems they need to solve and Willy Wonka makes an appearance and pivotal contribution to their situations, without continuously being present?

Certainly there was potential as I found almost everyone but Wonka intriguing.

Slugworth (Paterson Joseph) was an excellent villain and I love how even the antagonists danced with abandon as they attempted to bribe the police. Noodle (Calah Lane) was the epitome of what you look for in a pivotal young character, her performance heartfelt and honest.

I did a double take with Mrs. Scrubbitt when I realised it was Olivia Coleman, and then broke out in a grin (just as I did when I spotted Rowan Atkinson in the confessional).

I would have gladly followed the story through their eyes, and have Wonka pop in to brighten a gloomy outlook, give hope in a dire moment or inspire joy in the heart of a cynic.

But I got none of that.

Instead, for his darkest moment, Wonka gives up on life and friendship, but instantly regrets it and the whole thing turns into a… heist movie?

The underground vault that we were told of at the start of the movie, which was used to enable the chocolate cartel, now houses the black ledgers proving the activities of the cartel. And Wonka needs it, so he gathers his friends up and they… do a heist.

Oh, and do be warned, this film contains a lot more singing than any trailer ever promises. A lot of singing where we sing exactly what’s going on in the scene.

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2023/12/hugh-grant-hated-being-an-oompa-loompa-obviously

And don’t even get me started with the Oompa-Loompa.

Hugh Grant as an Oompa-Loompa was cringe. He purportedly hated it all the way through and it really shows. Pair this with the lack of whimsy in Chalamet’s performance and you’ve got two big flaws in the film right there.

So this feels like an adaptation that no one asked for, yet we got it. The magic and wonder never materialises. All that does materialise is a confused expression on my face and a yawn as the film drags on to an ending that doesn’t feel meaningful in the least.


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