Timothee Chalamet, and all the good things in ‘Wonka’
One of the funniest lists I found online is “movies about kindness with fanbases that are willing to murder your entire family if you have anything remotely negative to say about them.” Unsurprisingly, the first entry is the universally adored family fare “Paddington 2” by director Paul King. To no one’s surprise, King netted the job to direct the prequel to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” While it did not reach the same emotional highs as his previous films, King delivered delightful, heartfelt, and, at times, poignant entertainment that dares the audience to believe in the power of dreams.
Displaying the classic thespian triple threat of acting, singing, and dancing is Timothee Chalamet as the young adult Willy Wonka. We first met him aboard a ship on the way to the cathedral of confectionaries, Galeries Gourmet. With nothing but “a few sovereigns [coins] and a hatful of dreams,” our wide-eyed hero soon learned, in this world, “the greedy always beat the needy” as he ran into the Chocolate Mafia. Chalamet acquitted himself well in his musical performances, but what shines through is his comedic timing, which we rarely see in his past films.
The rest of the cast is a blend of actors from both sides of the Atlantic. The incredible Olivia Colman is the deceitful laundromat proprietor Mrs. Scrubbit, who tricked Wonka into servitude. Yes, there is a human trafficking subplot in this wholesome fare. English actors Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, and Matthew Baynton complete the formidable Chocolate Mafia. The legendary Rowan Atkinson.
One of the few wrinkles in the film involves the gluttonous police chief played by Keegan-Michael Key. But for some baffling reason, his character is the subject of needless fat jokes. I understand he serves as a visual representation of corruption, but making fun of his weight seems to go against its sweet-natured tone. Sally Hawkins delivers a short but memorable turn as the late mother of our hero. Calah Lane rounds up the cast as the clever orphan who befriended Wonka.
Part of what also makes the film entertaining is the assortment of fanciful confectionaries and the Rube Goldberg-like chocolatier contraptions. Fantastic effort from the production design team and the chocolate designer. Time will tell if any of the songs will reach the iconic status of “Pure Imagination” from the original film. Chalamet performed his version of the song at the end of the film, a sort of bridge and a nod to the past.
Did I mention the celebrated former matinee idol Hugh Grant is cast as an Oompa Loompa? No? Yes, and he is equal parts bonkers and brilliant.