A Wonka for a New Generation: Chalamet Shines in Wonka Movie (A Spoiler-Free Review)

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
The Wonka movie has some big shoes to fill. Gene Wilder's iconic performance in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a GenX staple. We know this movie. We love it, we quote it, we sing its songs (I kid you not that I even know every line to 'Cheer Up, Charlie'). Most of us hesitantly accepted a new version when Tim Burton and Johnny Depp brought a quirky young Willy Wonka to life in 2005's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and we probably only accepted it because it was Tim Burton and Johnny Depp). Truth be told, I loved the Tim Burton version, but I hold it separate from the Gene Wilder film. Tim Burton's version is almost like a piece of art inspired by the famous (or infamous) book by Roald Dahl (which I have read multiple times, so I know what I'm talking about here). The trailer for 2023's Wonka starring Timothee Chalamet looked amazing, so I walked into the theater with high hopes. You can exhale, because I did not walk out disappointed. Phew! 

Photo via Warner Bros Discovery
Disclosure: I attended a sneak preview of Wonka thanks to Warner Bros Entertainment and Boutique Publicity, but I was not otherwise compensated for this post. All opinions are my own. Wonka opens in theaters on December 15th.

About Wonka

Before I tell you my most humble opinion, here's the basic info about the plot, straight from the press release: "Based on the extraordinary character at the center of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s most iconic children’s book and one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, “Wonka” tells the wondrous story of how the world’s greatest inventor, magician and chocolate-maker became the beloved Willy Wonka we know today. From Paul King, writer/director of the “Paddington” films, David Heyman, producer of “Harry Potter,” “Gravity,” “Fantastic Beasts” and “Paddington,” and producers Alexandra Derbyshire (the “Paddington” films, “Jurassic World: Dominion”) and Luke Kelly (“Roald Dahl’s The Witches”), comes an intoxicating mix of magic and music, mayhem and emotion, all told with fabulous heart and humor.  Starring Timothée Chalamet in the title role, this irresistibly vivid and inventive big screen spectacle will introduce audiences to a young Willy Wonka, chock-full of ideas and determined to change the world one delectable bite at a time—proving that the best things in life begin with a dream, and if you’re lucky enough to meet Willy Wonka, anything is possible." 

The cast alongside Chalamet includes Calah Lane (“The Day Shall Come”), Keegan-Michael Key (“The Prom,” “Schmigadoon”), Paterson Joseph (“Vigil,” “Noughts + Crosses”), Matt Lucas (“Paddington,” “Little Britain”), Mathew Baynton (“The Wrong Mans,” “Ghosts”), Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water,” the “Paddington” films, “Spencer”), Rowan Atkinson (the “Johnny English” and “Mr. Bean” films, “Love Actually”), Jim Carter (“Downton Abbey”), with Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”) and Hugh Grant ("Paddington 2," "A Very English Scandal").  The film also stars Natasha Rothwell (“White Lotus,” “Insecure”), Rich Fulcher (“Marriage Story,” “Disenchantment”), Rakhee Thakrar (“Sex Education,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral”), Tom Davis (“Paddington 2,” “King Gary”) and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (“Paddington 2,” “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” “Mary Poppins Returns”). And here's the official trailer so you can get a glimpse of the film: 

What Age is Wonka Good For?

I think adults will enjoy this film, too (it's not just for kids and my teenager loved it). But as a mom, I can assure you that Wonka is fine for most ages. Kids under 8 might not grasp the plot as much as older children, but they'll still love it- the colors, the music, the magic, the chocolate! And there's no doubt that most children will love that little Oompa Loompa. There's nothing overly scary in the film and no bad language. There are some villains, of course, who are trying their best to do Wonka in, but they are somewhat comical and not truly frightening. You'll see bullying, orphans, and imprisonment - but ultimately the movie is about overcoming all of this, sticking close to your dreams, and sharing your gifts with the world. The main message here comes from Willy's mother: "Every good thing in this world started with a dream, so you hold on to yours." 

Wonka Respects the Original

I totally appreciate that Wonka paid homage to the original film. You'll find easter eggs and nods to the original (fans of the 1971 version will definitely notice this- I'm not going to spoil it for you, go look for those easter eggs yourself!). It was fun to discuss the little nods and innuendos we noticed after the film was over. And the music is outstanding- the songs are catchy and beautiful. Some of the old favorites make a comeback and that was so important to the success of this film. I can't wait to learn the lyrics to some of these new songs so I can reenact them in my kitchen (especially 'Do You Have a Sweet Tooth?'). I'm sure my family will be delighted by my performance, too. 

photo via Warner Bros Discovery 

Is Wonka Worth Seeing?

Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three, come with me...and see it. Wonka is a fun, uplifting film filled with music and magic, which is just what we need these days, isn't it? The best part is that we walked out happy. I loved hearing the gasps of kids in the audience and seeing everyone laughing and talking about the film afterwards. That's the mark of a great movie indeed. 

And a word about the cast - I loved them all. Each actor added their own genius to the film. It takes a special kind of human to portray Willy Wonka, because as a character, he's an amazing combination of weirdness, magic, and likability. He's handsome, charming, quirky, and brilliant. But he's also misunderstood by society. I think Timothee Chalamet did a wonderful job exhibiting all of these qualities. He didn't try to carbon copy Gene Wilder's portrayal, but he subtly incorporated his style into the role and I absolutely adored that. Plus, he had the tall, thin stature and the wild curls that Willy Wonka just needs (sorry, Johnny Depp). This is a Willy Wonka for a new generation (perhaps each generation needs their own Wonka?) and Chalamet totally rocked it.

photo via Warner Bros Discovery

One Last Note from The Jersey Momma

And if you are one of those people who disapproves of author Roald Dahl's version of the Oompa Loompa, I think you'll take solace in this movie. If you're not aware of the controversy, I won't get into it- you can google it yourself- but many people feel Dahl used a negative stereotype to create the Oompa Loompa characters in the first version of his book. The 1980's kid in me never felt this way (maybe because I didn't read the first edition) but I always saw them as tiny little imaginary people who hated their lives in Loompaland and willingly went to work with Willy so they could stop eating mashed caterpillars and escape the vermicious knids. No matter, you'll be pleased to know that Wonka's version of an Oompa Loompa is much more pleasant and hysterically funny. Hugh Grant is perfection as an Oompa Loompa and his witty sarcasm made me laugh throughout the film. Just as we have a new Willy Wonka for a new generation, we also have a new (and dare I say improved?) Oompa Loompa for this generation, too. 

photo via Warner Bros Discovery 

So make a day of this film- grab the people you love most, go see Wonka, and then head to a fun candy store and stuff yourselves silly. Might I recommend some chocolate, too?

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1 comment

  1. Absolutely fabulous review! I want to see it even more now if that’s possible! I loved Gene Wilder’s Wonka too, so I’m excited to find those Easter eggs and gentle nods myself. And, I completely agree Wonka must have curls.


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