So cards on the table. Gene Wilder is my Willy Wonka. I love that film. It remains perfection. Silly and fun and sinister and melancholy and everything wonderful and enchanting.* But I am pleased to report that Timothee Chalamet's musical origins story is charming and delightful, and if lacking the sinister melancholia, well he is just a young lad.
This version of Roald Dahl's iconic character sees him as a young impoverished man, desperate to share his chocolate with the world so that he can feel close to his dead mother. (Okay it's not as creepy as that just sounded). But he is up against two interlocking groups of villains. First, Olivia Colman and Tom Davis are Wonka's evil landlords, straight out of Les Miserables, complete with an abandoned cute orphan girl called Noodle (Calah Lane). The second group of villains are the chocolate oligopoly who control the supply by bribing the local police chief (Keegan Michael Key) and cleric (Rowan Atkinson). And in case you didn't think that was story line enough, we have a delicious cameo from a scene-stealing Hugh Grant as the original Oompa Loompa.
All of this makes for a complicated but never hard-to-follow adventure story set in a kind of fantasy Victorian mittel-europe that is sumptuous and wonderful in its production design. Chalamet is absolutely delightful as Wonka, Calah Lane adds empathy and earnestness as his sidekick Noodle, and all the adults are wonderfully cast. Of course, this is Hugh Grant's film. He is always better as villains and rogues, but his Oompa Loompa really does have some pathos to him too. Kudos to the writer-director behind PADDINGTON (Simon Farnaby and Paul King) for creating yet another warm-hearted but never schmaltzy family adventure. My only quibble is that the songs - from The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon - are not as immediately catchy as those from the original film - something that is highlighted whenever they use one of those iconic vintage tunes. Nonetheless, I await the inevitable West End musical!
WONKA has a running time of 116 minutes and is rated PG. It is on global release. *Let's not even discuss the abomination that was the Johnny Depp version.