Despite what some people may think, WONKA is not a remake of WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971), starring Gene Wilder, or CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005), starring Johnny Depp. Director Paul King, who co-wrote this screenplay with Simon Farnaby, is well known for the two incredibly inventive and delightful Paddington films --- huge favorites of mine --- and he wished to revisit one of his most treasured childhood stories, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl.


With the support of the Dahl Group behind him, King has created an origin story for Willy Wonka with Timothée Chalamet as the titular character. As with the Paddington movies, King has once again demonstrated his brilliance in devising a storyline and characters which appeal to both children and adults.


When Willy Wonka arrives at his destination with only his magical top hat, his dreams --- and his recipe for the best chocolate in the world --- he encounters a crazy cast of characters who are determined to stop him from being successful at all costs. But he and his new business partner, Noodle (Calah Lane) --- the little laundress at Mrs. Scrubitt’s (Olivia Coleman), the double-crossing innkeeper --- are not deterred.


Along with the other indentured servants at the inn, Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter), the accountant/washerman, Piper Benz (Natasha Rothwell), the plumber/washerwoman, Larry Chucklesworth (Rich Fulcher), the comedian/washerman, and Lottie Bell (Rakee Thakrar), the phone operator/washerwoman, Willy and Noodle engineer a plan to get them all out of their “contracts” with Mrs. Scrubitt and her henchman, Bleacher (Tom Davis). In the process, they must all contend with the crooked Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key), who does the dirty work for the Chocolate Cartel.


Led by Arthur Slugworth (Paterson Joseph) and his minions, Prodnose (Matt Lucas), and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton), the Chocolate Cartel controls all the chocolate making. So, when Willy shows up with his fantastical chocolates of all shapes, sizes and flavors, he must be stopped. And these three scoundrels will do everything in their power to do just that.


Sally Hawkins has a charming cameo as Willy’s beloved mother, who has instilled in him such love and strength of will in order to see his dreams come true. She adds so much to any film --- her presence is genuinely memorable. As is Hugh Grant’s as the Oompa Loompa. Both Hawkins and Grant have worked with King before on the Paddington films, and here --- especially Grant --- they are marvelous. He's an absolute hoot playing the tiny orange man with green hair who’s been kicked out of his homeland for allowing Willy to escape with a few cocoa beans.


Everyone in this cast is superb. The musical numbers are so very entertaining, with catchy new songs by Neil Hannon, the leader of the band, The Divine Comedy. Production designer Nathan Crowley has created a wonderful world for King’s fantasy --- more colorful and magical than one can imagine. And of course, the extraordinary costumes by Lindy Hemming complete the exceptional experience.


But none of this would matter without the outstanding performance by Chalamet. He is a wonder --- the perfect young Willy Wonka. He sings and dances his way into our hearts --- and his boyish charm is quite affecting. Plus, he and Lane have amazing chemistry. He manages to carry the entire film with his joie de vivre --- and never letting up on his desire to make the best chocolate.


WONKA is totally brilliant! Just like PADDINGTON and PADDINGTON 2, it begs to be seen more than once. I’ve written this before and I’m writing it again --- go see WONKA on the big screen. Take your children --- and if you don’t have children, borrow a few for the afternoon. It’s an exhilarating moviegoing experience for the entire family --- take Grandma and Grandpa --- they’ll love it, too!


Opinion: Strong See It Now!





The first questions about WONKA that need answering are these: is it simply another version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl that will appeal mainly to kids? And is there a substantial reason for adults to see this film?


WONKA is undoubtedly one of the more entertaining films of this or any other year, for children as well as their parents. In fact, more of the humor and pathos in this story is for grown-ups, so don’t just drop off your kids at the cinema.


In the all-critical role of Willy Wonka is Timothée Chalamet. Only days away now from his 28th birthday, Chalamet further establishes himself as one of the brightest talents in the industry. No other actor working today is better suited to play Willy. Chalamet sings, dances and is ideal in every way. He brings unbridled enthusiasm, energy and optimism to his performance of the youthful chocolatier and magician with large dreams to fulfill.


Willy faces serious setbacks as he works feverishly to open a chocolate shop and give the good people of the town the best chocolate they’ve ever tasted. Shot on sound stages at Warner Bros Studios, the sets designed by Nathan Crowley are spectacular.


But not all the inhabitants are good people. Opposing Willy and his dream are three business moguls who comprise the Chocolate Cartel. They will stop at nothing to thwart Willy’s efforts, including their recruitment of the Chief of Police, played by Keegan-Michael Key. Always a funny man, Key is hilarious in a fat suit as he gets increasingly more obese in each scene after gobbling up his remuneration in chocolates.


The three chocolate magnates are the leader, Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), and his two sidekicks, Prodnose (Matt Lucas), and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton). They are all quite amusing, but Fickelgruber has a hysterical running gag where the mere mention of poor people makes him vomit in his mouth.


Co-writer and director Paul King, along with his script partner and PADDINGTON collaborator Simon Farnaby, have created an origin story for Dahl’s beloved Willy Wonka. King, who professes his love for the original story as a child, is uniformly praised by his cast and crew for his leadership on this seven-month project. One of his celebrity stalwarts, Olivia Coleman --- who plays Mrs. Scrubitt, aptly named as an innkeeper and laundress --- is everywhere these days, and why not? She brings a special quality to everything she touches. As Mrs. Scrubitt she evokes comparisons to her past role of Madame Thénardier in the BBC version of “Les Miserables”.


Other household names abound in the cast. Fans of TV’s “Downton Abbey” will, of course, recognize Jim Carter from his role as Carson. Here he plays accountant Abacus Crunch. Sally Hawkins has a small but crucial role as Willy’s deceased mother who has a secret to success for her son that isn’t revealed until the end, making for a very poignant moment.


And then there is Hugh Grant. Dahl created an odd group of denizens called Oompa Loompas, so naturally the writers had to consider this. Actually, King wanted Grant right away because, as he told Grant, “Whenever I think of someone really curmudgeonly, and unpleasant, I immediately think of you”. And Grant’s portrayal is truly laugh-out-loud.


The remainder of the supporting cast is flawless, but none more so than Calah Lane. She is 14 years old and already has an extensive resume. Lane plays Noodle, who meets Willy and becomes his valued partner and friend. She is fantastic for such a young talent.


WONKA is essentially a musical, but not in the sense of what most of us think of as such. The cast doesn’t break out into songs at every turn. The numbers are limited, as are the dance routines, and all are delightful --- truly entertaining. You are guaranteed a fun time at the movies. Not to be missed.


Opinion:  Strong See It Now!