Paulie’s Perspective: Wonka (2023)

Wonka (2023)

Dir: Paul King

Writers: Paul King; Roald Dahl; Simon Farnaby

Starring: Timothee Chalamet; Gustave Die; Murray McArthur; Hugh Grant

By Paul Bernardo

When we here a movie is to be made about one of our most beloved characters of all time, naturally we get a little skeptical. Willy Wonka? Surely we’ve all heard of him, we grew up with him, we adored him. Gene Wilder is etched in stone in American culture, as are his songs and as are the infamously small and orange Oompas Loompas.

Paul King is a British writer/director who graduated with honors from Cambridge University. So the man is no academic slouch. Paul worked his way through British television, writing and directing, and made his name with the Paddington Bear film series, which he wrote and directed.

Paul was clear when he was making Wonka that this would be a companion piece to the beloved Gene Wilder project. That this film will pre-date it, almost like an origin story for Wonka – but only in a business sense. The film will show how good a chocolatier Willy Wonka really was, and the obstacles he had getting his iconic business off the ground.

Well this seems all well and good but will he change everything we loved about the Gene Wilder film? Like the Johnny Depp movie, will this just be another angle on Wonka? Something more “up to date” or “fashionable” to bring Wonka into modern times?

Warner Brothers reacquired the rights to Willy Wonka in 2016, and naturally, when you have the rights to such a famous IP, you must at least try to make use of it. Who better to put such a famous IP into the hands of, than a Cambridge graduate who had success with the very lovable Paddington Bear? Yes Paul King was not out to redefine Wonka, he is merely out to enhance Wonka, and this is something which I think Paul has done wonderfully.

Everything about this film is charming and warm, including the great performance of Timothee Chalamet. Timothee and Paul do not go for over the top here, but instill the same characteristics in Wonka as Gene Wilder did, which made us all fall in love with him. Wonka is warm, kind, charming and brave, actually, a lot like Robin Hood and the origins of Santa Claus. If you recall, the origin of Santa Claus (according to Santa Claus is Coming To Town; 1970 TV special by Rankin and Bass) was that he was wanted by the horrible mayor of Sombertown, Burgermeister Meisterburger, and Santa had to sneak around giving all the kids their presents before he was discovered by the police. A stretch I know, but this is what Wonka must do in this film. The police are corrupt and are bribed by his archnemesis Arthur Slugworth to stop Wonka from selling his chocolate at any and all costs. The one big change Paul made here was instead of keeping Slugworth as an old German white guy with glasses, Slugworth was changed to a black male in his late 20’s without glasses.

Wonka has a few things in it that actually enhances the 1971 Gene Wilder film, and Slugworth, certainly is one of them. Paul King shows us how the big feud between Wonka and Slugworth began, and how the competition between the two got started. That is a huge plus for this film, and shows that Paul truly is paying homage to the classic, not trying to replace it. A wise choice in my mind, and apparently everyone else’s.

Wonka also enhances the experience of the golden ticket, why Wonka chose it in the first place, and how much something like that really means to him. Another great treat for the fans of the original film.

The biggest surprise, and the one that put a huge smile on my face, was the return of the legendary song, Pure Imagination song by Gene Wilder in the 1971 film. Wonka has some short songs in it, and it’s cute to break up the movie so kids don’t lose their attention. This song is beloved by all, and instead of trying to replace it, Wonka brings it back in the end, at precisely the right time where it tugs at your heart the most. Timothee sings the song well, and it fits absolutely beautifully in the spot where it is. Something the whole audience can by enchanted by and even sing along too.

Before I go, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Oompa Loompa. Yes there is only one here, but it is played by Hugh Grant who is having a delightful time. Hugh plays the one single Oompa Loompa who starts it all. Hugh Grant plays Lofty, who follows Wonka back from Loompaland after Wonka stole some cocoa beans from there. We get to see how the bond and the friendship begins with Wonka and the legendary Oompa Loompas and why they made such great workers and friends.

So there you have it, do not be afraid of this film, it is not trying to replace anything. In fact, it enhances what we already love about Wonka and his beautiful world. Let down your guard and your hate, and simply enjoy this charming companion piece. Who knows, in the end, you just might even sing along.