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Wonka is full of imagination – but not completely magical

timothee chalamet in wonka
Wonka reviewJaap Buittendijk

Paul King is no stranger to having to win people over. Before his Paddington movies became two of the most-loved movies of the past decade, the first movie was greeted with a #CreepyPaddington meme and other mockery.

It hasn't quite been on the same level for Wonka as movie fans trust King's work now. However, the first trailer still led to some distinctly non-family friendly responses to Hugh Grant's Oompa-Loompa, as well as general apathy towards the need for a Willy Wonka prequel.

First reactions to Wonka seemed to suggest that, yet again, King had upended expectations to deliver another crowdpleaser in the vein of Paddington. But while Wonka definitely has Big Paddington Energy and is full of pure imagination, it's not quite as magical.

timothee chalamet, wonka
Warner Bros.

Set years before he's even opened his chocolate factory, Wonka tells the untold origin story of the young chocolate maker (Timothée Chalamet) with dreams of opening a shop in the prestigious Galeries Gourmet.

Unfortunately for him, it's ruled over by a nefarious Chocolate Cartel of Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton) and Prodnose (Matt Lucas) who will stop at nothing to prevent him from doing so.

Along the way, Wonka crosses paths with an eclectic bunch of characters, including the villainous Mrs Scrubitt (Olivia Colman) and her henchman Bleacher (Tom Davis). Not everybody is out to get him though, as help comes in the unlikely form of orphan Noodle (Calah Lane) and a chocolate-stealing Oompa-Loompa named Lofty (Grant).

timothee chalamet, hugh grant, wonka
Warner Bros.

If you've come to Wonka expecting revelations about Willy Wonka's past, it's not really what the movie is interested in. You get a brief backstory about Wonka's love of chocolate coming from his late mother (Sally Hawkins), but that's about it.

Instead, it's an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular – King knows that you know how it ends, so he focuses entirely on you having fun instead. King employs his Paddington creative flourishes from animated backstories to quirky visual gags, and even adds another hilarious security guard to co-writer Simon Farnaby's CV.

It's a winning formula, but it doesn't work quite as well here. It's less about the invention and more that the songs let Wonka down. They're enjoyable in the moment and well-staged, particularly 'Scrub Scrub' as Wonka realises how terrible Scrubitt and Bleacher are, but you'd be hard pressed to recall any after.

Not everything can be 'Pure Imagination', of course, and reinventing it for an emotional finale is a smart call. It does highlight how little the other songs have moved you though, beyond having some witty and playful lyrics.

olivia colman, wonka
Warner Bros.

As for the main event himself, Timothée Chalamet acquits himself well for the singing and dancing, yet like the blend of Paddington sensibilities with Wonka, it doesn't quite click. There's never a point where you buy the eccentricity of Wonka, or any sense that this character grows up to be somebody who essentially tortures children with chocolate.

Wonka didn't exactly need to end with the chocolate maker coming up with the golden ticket idea, but you still need a sense that you're watching the same character, and there's just not really any edge there. Chalamet is almost too charming and affable to completely fit.

There are missteps elsewhere to0 that affect the movie. In particular, there's a running fat joke with Keegan-Michael Key's Chief of Police that belongs in a different decade, while Sally Hawkins is underused even if her scenes end up delivering a touching message.

It all means that Wonka doesn't quite become the delicious confection it wants to be, but there are still enough sweet treats along the way.

3 stars
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Wonka is released in UK cinemas on December 8 and in US cinemas on December 15.

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