Third is a charm in “Wonka”

Wonka (Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Olivia Colman, Keegan Michael Key, Hugh Grant) – The third Willy Wonka film presents Roald Dahl’s enigmatic chocolatier as a sweeter, more idealistic character than the first two. With Timothée Chalamet as Willy, we are presented an “origin” story about the young man who just wants to make the best chocolate in the world.

In 1971, Gene Wilder played the slightly snarky Wonka with a glint in his eye and a dark streak. In 2005, Johnny Depp was closer to Dahl’s Wonka, that is, dark and less flighty. As the young Willy, Chalamet’s innocent comes to town with a trunk and a penchant for making chocolate magical. He is naïve yet headstrong. And he sings.  A lot.

Yes, this version is tuneful and aimed straight at kids. I always felt that the 1971 movie was made for adults but invited us to “feel free to bring the kids.” The 2005 version was pure Tim Burton, an eccentric artist’s take on a classic. This time, Paul King, who helmed the two Paddington movies, plays this for kids. That means there aren’t a lot of inside jokes or adult innuendo.

Chalamet is likable and playful. His Wonka is seeking the dream his now-deceased mother encouraged – to make magic chocolate in his own factory. Arriving in the city with only a little money, he ends up at a boarding house run by a tyrant disguised as a motherly type. Played by Oscar winner Olivia Colman, Mrs. Scrubitt gives Willy a room but not until he signs a contract, which a little girl named Noodle warns him it contains lots of fine print. He signs anyhow and instantly joins Noodle and a small band of others as indentured servants.

Calah Lane, who practically “steals” the film, becomes Willy’s sidekick as Noodle.  Along with the gang, they outsmart the rich, evil cabal of chocolatiers and eventually prevail (sorry for the spoiler without a warning). Willy also outwits the local, corrupt chief of police played perfectly by Keegan Michael Key, who proved his musical comedy chops in the streaming series, Schmigadoon. And then there is Lofty, an Oompa Loompa, who is looking for Wonka because Willy stole the cocoa beans that are the key ingredient in Willy’s chocolate. Played by the moody, sometimes brooding, often sarcastic Hugh Grant, it is inspired type casting.

The score is simple and wonderful. It could garner a nomination or two, including for Best Song for A World of Your Ow, which you’ll be singing on your way out of the theater. Chalamet has a flat, pleasing, lilting voice as he sings several songs, some original and some from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Listen for familiar songs in the underscore as well as a great version of Pure Imagination. But alas, we don’t hear Sammy Davis Jr. sing The Candy Man.

Hundreds of animators, CG artists, compositors and matte painters make the film a joy to watch. If you can see it on IMAX in new generation Dolby sound, do it. You won’t be disappointed. At under two hours, Wonka is a perfect holiday movie.

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