Wonka review: when Timothée Chalamet gobbled up a chocolate-covered Johnny Depp


Timothée Chalamet officially declares himself the successor to Gene Wilder in a delightfully funny, over-the-top fable with a Hugh Grant as diminutive and green as he is, in fact, hulk-like

Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka in 'Wonka'.
Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka in 'Wonka'.JAAP BUITTENDIJK / WARNER BROS

Everyone knows (or should know) that any recipe, no matter how extraordinary or delicious it may be, gains a whole lot from simply dipping it in chocolate. It's a universal truth accepted by gourmands, bon vivants, and chefs alike, not to mention even Bernard Shaw, who, apparently, was a fan. Chocolate, as a very environmentally-concerned friend of mine once said, is the best reason to preserve this planet of ours.

Paul King —accompanied by the vibrant performances of Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins, and Rowan Atkinson, among others— is acutely aware of the addictive and universal power of cocoa. Consequently, his particular take on Roald Dahl's fable, which has already seen notable cinematic adaptations by Mel Stuart and Tim Burton, is essentially a celebration of chocolate's ability to enhance everything: just add a thin (or not so thin) layer on top.

Indeed, Wonka does nothing more than appeal to everyone's imagination to indulge in something as simple and enjoyable as the satisfaction that comes with discovering a chocolate bar in the drawer, receiving a freshly gifted box of chocolates, or spying a kid's nose pressed against a bakery's display window. It appeals to all that and to the universe surrounding the character in question, which, in one way or another, accompanies us all. King strategically pays homage to previous portrayals of Willy Wonka in his film, while transforming the traditional musical genre not just into a showcase of extravagance but into a delicate and precise excuse for such noble feelings as reunion and, more importantly, recognition to the point of complete identification. No one, each for their different reasons, would hesitate to switch places with Wonka.

If in his previous adaptations of Paddington he paid homage to Michael Bond's books to the point of transforming them into a filmed children's book that was also a journey into the depths of sentimental education, King now strives to elevate the myth of the master chocolatier into the sweetest, funniest, most carefree and sweet-toothed of aspirations. A dream, yes, but dipped in chocolate. The story recounts Wonka's tale before becoming the figure he ultimately was. To build his empire, he must first battle against the villains, who are none other than the owners of the chocolate monopoly. It all unfolds in a dreamlike Paris halfway between Dickens' London and Johanna Spyri's Switzerland.

Composer Joby Talbot blends new themes with the songs once sung by Gene Wilder in a deliberate study of recollection rather than nostalgia. The aim isn't to surrender again to the burdensome melancholy of cherished old times but to celebrate commonality. And among all the tunes, none quite like Oompa Loompa, doompety doo performed by a rediscovered Hugh Grant in the role of —you guessed it— Oompa Loompa. Alongside him, lead actor Timothée Chalamet solidifies himself as an actor capable of not only standing on equal ground with legends (yes, they are, even if they've fallen) like Johnny Depp or Wilder, but also with the collective imagination we all share. The fun lies in breaking off a square and eating just one piece.

If this festive season was in need for a new movie, it has found one. And it's coated in chocolate. What more could one ask for?