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‘Wonka’ features less unhinged chocolate maker, retains his charm

On film, Willy Wonka has always been an eccentric character.

In the 1971 film Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, Gene Wilder played a Wonka who was completely unpredictable and could be described as someone borderline unhinged. He seemed to relish in the fear of the visitors to his chocolate factory and he always had a trick up his sleeve to weed out the naughty children.

Johnny Depp’s version of the character in 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory took the unhinged-ness to a new level. Depp’s Wonka seemed to be out of his mind at virtually all times and he seemed less human and something else entirely.

In the newly released prequel film Wonka, Timothee Chalamet plays a boyish version of the character. He still holds some of the eccentricities of the Wilder and Depp characters, but he was certainly not as unhinged as either of the two, which was a refreshing change of pace for the character in the new film.

Wonka serves as an origin story for the titular character. Although seemingly not connected to the previous films, the story does make reference to the Gene Wilder film and events in the film suggest that this story could lead to that original film. 

Willy Wonka arrives in a European city, determined to become a chocolate maker. He’s an inventor and magician and combines those talents along with his chocolate making in order to impress the local townsfolk, who are easily swayed by Wonka’s theatrics. 

But trouble abounds when Wonka crosses paths with three other chocolate makers: Arthur Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Prodnose (Matt Lucas) and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton). Although the three chocolate makers are rivals, they team up to prevent other chocolate connoisseurs from starting up in town, thus letting the chocolate cartel dominate in the city.

Meanwhile, Wonka quickly finds himself in debt to Mrs. Scrubitt (Olivia Colman), who could be where a lot of Wonka’s eventual unhinged behavior comes from. Mrs. Scrubitt forces Wonka to work for her to pay off his debt, and Wonka finds himself working alongside others in Mrs. Scrubitt’s debt. These five include Noodle (Calah Lane), Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter), Piper Benz (Natasha Rothwell), Larry Chucklesworth (Rich Fulcher) and Lottie Bell (Rakhee Thakrar). 

Along the way, Wonka finally meets the “small orange man with green hair” who has been stealing his chocolate for years. This character is revealed to be an Oompa Loompa named Lumpy (Hugh Grant), who was banished from his homeland because of Wonka taking cocoa beans to make chocolate. Although playing a small part in the film, Lumpy comes to save the day during the climax of the film and later appears in the credits to give an update on the characters of the film.

Wonka is a highly musical film. Although both previous films had some songs in them, Wonka has several songs of its own. It should certainly be classified as a musical film, with Wonka and other characters breaking out in song during several key plot points in the movie. During the climax, Gene Wonka’s signature song Pure Imagination gets a brilliant performance by Chalamet and it just might bring a tear to your eye.

Also of note is how the heroes and villains seem to parallel characters in the novel and original film. Indeed, the chocolate cartel of the three rival chocolate makers and the corrupt chief of police on their payroll are reflections of the four naughty children in the novel and original film (Veruca Salt, Mike Teevee, Violet Beauregarde and Augustus Gloop). Conversely, Wonka’s companions can be seen as “good” versions of those same children (they each have the positive traits of their counterparts), while Noodle represents the first child in Wonka’s life to embody the spirit of Charlie Bucket.

Wonka is playing in theatres now. 

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