Wonka review: Timothee Chalamet's turn as Roald Dahl's chocolatier lacks magic of the past

The famous candy man has previously been played by Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp

Timothee Chalamet plays a young Willy Wonka in Wonka. Photo: Warner Bros Pictures
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There’s understandably a lot of hype and expectations surrounding Wonka.

To begin with, the character is both a literary and cinematic icon. After being created by author Roald Dahl and appearing in his novels Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator, he has been portrayed on the big screen by Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp. Wilder’s performance is even considered to be the most dazzling of his esteemed career.

Oscar-nominee Timothee Chalamet is the actor tasked with filling these enormous shoes, while Wonka is co-written and directed by Paul King, the filmmaker behind the popular live-action comedy film, Paddington 2.

The musical-fantasy tells the origin story of Willy Wonka, a young chocolatier with a big dream, who arrives in town ready to open up his own chocolate shop.


Director: Paul King

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant

Rating: 2/5

However, things soon start to go wrong for Wonka. He quickly loses all of his money and is tricked by Mrs Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and Bleacher (Tom Davis) into working at their hotel.

Wonka’s efforts to open up his own shop are even thwarted by Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton) and Prodnose (Matt Lucas), the trio who run the town’s three most popular chocolate stores. They bribe the police chief (Keegan-Michael Key) with chocolate to tighten their stranglehold and block any competition.

At the same time, Wonka also has to contend with a little orange man with green hair, known as an Oompa-Loompa (Hugh Grant), who keeps trying to steal the chocolate he makes.

But with the help of five other people who have also been tricked by Scrubbit and Bleacher, Wonka soon starts to get his chocolate out to consumers. They’re immediately impressed by his creations, which combine ingredients from around the world to make truly unique confectionery.

This brings Wonka into direct conflict with Slugworth, Ficklegruber and Prodnose, who decide that extreme measures are needed to make sure that Wonka never makes chocolate again.

While the talent involved in Wonka is undeniably impressive, there’s something a little off about the end product. Chalamet is wonderfully charismatic as Wonka, eating up the screen and having a ball as the young candy king. There’s even a glimmer in his eye that teases Wilder’s version of the character (the less said about Depp’s Wonka, the better).

The supporting cast are all strong, too. Baynton, Joseph, Key, Colman and, in particular, Grant all immediately light up the already colourful film whenever they appear. But here in lies part of the problem with Wonka, the ensemble cast is too bloated and the film struggles to remain balanced as a result.

Grant is extraordinary as Lofty the Oompa-Loompa. But he doesn’t pop-up in the film for an hour, and while he plays a key role in Wonka’s conclusion, you can’t help but wish there was more of him.

Especially since the script for Wonka, which King co-wrote with his Paddington 2 scribe Simon Farnaby, doesn’t quite have the magic that audiences anticipated. You can hear the intricate wordplay and quick one-liners, but the wit and humour of the film never really lands or produces too many laughs.

The same can be said for Wonka’s musical numbers, which were written by Neil Hannon, the creator and front-man of the Northern Irish pop group The Divine Comedy. While the songs start off pleasantly, they never explode into captivating or memorable numbers.

Wonka also has a pacing problem. Some scenes seem to start or end abruptly, which suggests that the original plan for the film might have been changed during the editing process.

Ultimately, Wonka is never boring and is mostly enjoyable – it is the ideal film for all the family to watch over the festive season. But considering the history of the character and the creative talent involved, you can’t help but be a little underwhelmed with what they cooked up.

Updated: December 05, 2023, 1:57 PM

Director: Paul King

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant

Rating: 2/5