Let me stage with you: 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Manufacturing unit is considered one of my very favourite movies. You know the way movie individuals prefer to wax poetic about how films are magic? Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Manufacturing unit made me imagine it. Again in 1971, Roger Ebert’s four-star review of the film in contrast it to The Wizard of Oz, and that’s fairly apt — each movies are landmark cinematic experiences, the variety that may change your life if you happen to come to them at the proper time.
Wonka, the new prequel movie from director Paul King and his Paddington 2 co-writer Simon Farnaby, starring Timotheé Chalamet as a younger Willy Wonka, does nothing of the kind. That doesn’t make it unhealthy — it’s merely nice, a pleasant diversion that principally suffers from the sturdy affiliation with a a lot better movie.
As a prequel to the ’71 movie — and particularly not an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ebook, for rights reasons — Wonka makes use of a wholesome serving of musical numbers to inform the story of how and why its quirky chocolatier turned a famend confectioner. In Wonka’s world — a whimsical, unnamed European city — the chocolate biz is dominated by three stodgy firms who collaborate as a secret cartel, fixing costs, paying off cops, and promoting inferior product to a public with no different native sweet choices.
It is a delightfully convoluted plot for a kids’s fantasy movie that could be very plainly about holding on to your goals, an thought explored with little or no sophistication or idiosyncrasy. There’s a sweetness to Wonka that’s immediately recognizable to anybody who’s seen Paul King’s Paddington films, which makes it each a pleasure to look at and in the end frivolous.
The 1971 movie is greater than mere confection: There’s an actual aura to it, a way of peril and melancholy, with just a bit splash of horror. A lot of that comes from Gene Wilder’s efficiency as the magical candyman. It’s considered one of the finest family-film performances, heat but additionally untrustworthy. Wilder’s Wonka is a trickster god who’s completely satisfied to wreck you by supplying you with all you ever wished. Chalamet’s Willy Wonka is obvious by comparability, a scrappy inventor who’s a buddy to all, needing solely to share his chocolate with the world.
Usually, I think about it unfair to check two films like this, however as I mentioned, I’m an enormous fan. But extra importantly, Wonka immediately invokes the earlier movie in methods massive and small, going as far as to have Chalamet’s model of the character converse in the similar diction as Wilder’s, full with a “Scratch that, reverse it” line. As it is a story about a younger Willy Wonka, the movie should depart a bit of room to get from right here to there, so Chalamet is granted the house to make the character his personal. However it is a model of Willy that’s too sanded-down, too approachable to be really memorable.
A part of the drawback comes with shifting the character right into a protagonist. Wonka’s titular chocolate maker is just not the strangest character in its world; in actual fact, he’s a fairly wise man in a city run by chocolate kingpins who repair costs and bribe cops. He’s particularly relatable in comparison with Bleacher (Tom Davis) and Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman), the proprietors of a laundromat/inn who trick their lodgers (Wonka included) into indentured servitude by having them signal contracts with intensive superb print. A lot of the movie includes Willy Wonka befriending others who’ve fallen below Scrubbit and Bleacher’s thumbs, and serving to them escape servitude by covertly promoting chocolate.
Once more, all of that is depicted pleasurably sufficient, with songs by Irish singer-songwriter Neil Hannon which can be gratifying, however not significantly memorable. The movie’s manufacturing design, nonetheless, is superlative. Headed up by frequent Christopher Nolan collaborator Nathan Crowley (who labored with the director on The Darkish Knight and Dunkirk, amongst others), Wonka’s design sensibilities are lavish and charming, a balm of sensible units in a sea of films that accept digital ones. (A spotlight is a mid-movie quantity the place Wonka and his laundromat buddies give you quite a few schemes to promote chocolate on the streets whereas evading police.) Even the movie’s oddest word, an Oompa-Loompa named Lofty (Hugh Grant), is fairly amusing, recasting the most troublesome little bit of Roald Dahl’s Wonka lore right into a thief who’s always attempting to steal chocolate from Wonka.
Sweet is usually used to evoke frivolity: sentimentality that’s saccharine to a fault, a pleasure that doesn’t linger. One in every of the many issues Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Manufacturing unit did was invert that cultural affiliation, imbuing it with a special that means — the work of music-makers, and dreamers of dreams. Creativeness, the inventive spark in all its surprise and peril, is what made Wonka and his chocolate particular. Wonka takes a shallower tack, insisting that having a dream is sufficient, no matter its substance. Sweet is barely what it seems to be: nothing magic, and nothing extra.
Wonka premieres in theaters on Dec. 15.