Prequels are a hard business – almost as hard as reboots when it comes to something like the legendary Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The 1971 classic starring Gene Wilder is quite a feat of pure imagination, and any movie trying to compete with that film needs to bring something special to the table. Well, depending on which critics you listen to, director Paul King’s upcoming movie Wonka, starring Timothée Chalamet, is either a sweet success or a sour disaster.
It looks like there’s barely room for middle ground in this confectionary-centric musical based on author Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And if you’re one of the people who might be surprised by Wonka’s singing and dancing, Tessa Smith’s review on Mama’s Geeky explains why that particular aspect is actually a good thing:
Wonka is probably the biggest surprise of the year. While the trailer made it look like it could be fun, it really does no justice to the phenomenal, whimsical, magical journey that viewers will go on. The song and dance numbers, laugh out loud humor, and incredible cast will have families not only loving this movie, but likely coming back for seconds. It is charming, hilarious, and filled with heart.
Clearly, not everyone is buying into Warner Bros’ brand of sugary visuals and amped up performances. Paste’s Jacob Oiler was none too pleased with the movie, as his view of Wonka skews towards a more cynical evaluation. Paddington fans, you may need a marmalade sandwich after this one:
The wreck of Wonka stings because of the clarity with which we see King’s eye for visual comedy and lavish set piece staging, squandered on a movie where branding was always going to eclipse beauty. If some of the other filmmakers toiling in the chocolate factory were overpowered by the machinery of blockbuster studio filmmaking, King’s skills fell to the high-level creative checklists that increasingly accompany any whiff of IP.
Of course, a big question is whether or not Wonka’s Timothée Chalamet was the right choice to play the younger version of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. Considering Jeremy Allen White was sitting right there, one can kind of see why that would be such a fervently debated question.
Earlier reactions to Wonka seemed to favor Mr. Chalamet’s performance overwhelmingly. Now that we’re digging into actual reviews however, that's bound to be more of a mixed bag. On the defending side, the positive Tom Jorgensen from IGN had the following to say:
Timothée Chalamet strikes a respectful, earnest tone in bringing to life a character who has already been played to perfection. Despite the numerous direct ties back to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – mostly in the form of recognizable quotes – Chalamet’s performance never hews too close to an imitation of Wilder, and that space gives him room to put his own sense of personality into the role.
Meanwhile, in the anti-Chalamet camp, Alistair Ryder of The Film Stage is not exactly a believer. In fact, in his negatively-skewing review for Wonka, he used the following comparison to express his disappointment in the film’s lead:
Unfortunately, if his aim was to start recalibrating his screen persona to fit in that classic matinee idol mold, Wonka is a near-fatal miscalculation. His overly twee take on the chocolate tycoon will likely make audiences look back fondly on Johnny Depp’s poor Michael Jackson imitation in Tim Burton’s remake from 2005.
That comparison seems a bit rough, especially when there are some defenders who believe that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory did some things really well. With battling opinions varying over what degree Paul King’s Paddington charms worked on Wonka, it’s not going to be easy to find a consensus any time soon. However, that’s exactly the time that an opinion like that of Christopher Bumbray at JoBlo comes in handy, as he had this to say:
I think Wonka is a great family movie for the holidays. While some may mock it as twee, everyone involved has their hearts in the right place. The fact that something so boldly sentimental and sweet still gets made is remarkable in our cynical age, so I give Wonka a big recommendation for that alone.
Beloved source material and a sweeping wave of “Anti I.P.” culture seem to have created a perfect storm for Wonka to weather. With more reactions and reviews on the way, it’s only going to be all the more interesting to track the trajectory to follow, as what we know about Wonka has tipped this cinematic offering as one of the most hotly anticipated holiday films of this year. You’ll get a chance to see if the Candy Man can work his magic very soon, as Wonka is set to open in theaters starting December 15.