Timothee Chalamet has never smiled more in any of his films so far. His Willy Wonka is young, exuberant, and with a sense of wide-eyed wonder.
Silver Linings made of condensed thundercloud. Liquid sunlight. Giraffe milk. Bittersweet tears of a Russian clown. These are just some of the ingredients Willy Wonka uses to make chocolate. Paddington director Paul King's origin story of the Roald Dahl character is all things wonderous to look at. It sounds like the crack of a chocolate bar and feels like a piece of the same melting in your mouth.
Wonka explores the life of Willy Wonka, a character from Roald's popular novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, before he became the founder of the said chocolate factory. The new guy in town, he's all set to make and sell chocolate like hot cakes, just what his late mother (played by the always affable Sally Hawkins) asked him to do. But he's soon fined for ‘daydreaming,’ which is a penalising offence in the town.
He's then conned into overspending at a guest house owned by Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and consequently thrown into the service quarters to wash clothes for the next 27 years in order to repay his debt. In a comment on the crony capitalism of hotels, Willy is charged for not only the welcome drink, but also warming himself next to a fireplace, using the mini-bar (of soap in his washroom), the ‘pillow penalty,’ and stair charges for every step he took up to get to his room.
An orphan he meets in the service quarters rightly tells him, “The greedy beat the needy. It's just the way of the world.” She's right, because the crony capitalism extends to influential businessmen who hoard chocolate and illegally monopolise its selling, in cahoots with not only the police but also the head priest, whose palms are greased with chocolate. The secret warehouse of all the chocolate in fact lies beneath the church, with the confession box as its hidden entrance.
The Willy Wonka played by Timothee Chalamet here is not the eccentric and powerful empire owner previously essayed by Gene Wilder in Mel Stuart's Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) or the slightly twisted one portrayed by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). Timothee infuses in a young Wonka oodles of exuberance, cartloads of hope, and a persistent sense of wide-eyed wonder.
That wonder is shared by the audience at the sight of the magnificent worldbuilding by co-writers Simon Farnaby and Paul King, best known for the Paddington franchise. A particular sequence in the zoo, featuring a giraffe called Abigail and flamingos who've just learnt to fly, stands out as the mantelpiece of the fire within the makers' belly. Neil Hannon's original songs, particularly the zoo one that rhymes Noodle, poodle, and doodle, are immensely hummable and extremely addictive to tap your feet to.
Besides Timothee, there are a bunch of seasoned stalwarts who step in to play their parts in service of the story. There's Olivia Colman who uses that famous wide grin to flag mischief and channel stepmotherly sinister energy. There's Hugh Grant, as Lofty the Oompa-Loompa, a vertically challenged orange man with green hair (not kidding), responding to Willy's verses with curt Brit burns sans rhythm. And there's Rowan Atkinson as the sinning head priest who uses his animated expressions to his comic best. It's also nice to see Jim Carter from Downton Abbey play a former Chartered Accountant who doesn't shy away from wearing a pink blazer.
All of these ingredients, along with a standout villainous depiction by Paterson Joseph, make Wonka a worthy addition to the extending universe of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This new instalment has the same richness and taste, but instead of coming straight out of the freezer, it has the fluidity and warmth of a bubbling cup of hot chocolate.
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