The Wonka trailer didn’t have songs in it. And yet, the second the titles roll in the actual film, Timothée Chalamet spirals up a ship’s mast like Gene Kelly on that rainy lamp post and starts belting out a show tune. A syrupy one too.
Wherein lies the second life lesson: don’t prematurely judge, as every other tune is a rollicking banger. Or rather choco-lollicking, considering the absolute barrage of chocolate rhymes (“sky-rockolate”, “rock around the clockolate” and eyes popping out of “sock-olates” to name but a few).
Chalamet is indeed the star of this origin story, but the moment Willy ambles into a kind of Paris-slash-Oxford-by-the-sea to pursue his chocolatier dreams, the perfect, flawless ensemble cast brings this scrumptiously to life.
With a face like it’s been pan-fried in gin, Olivia Colman is a scenery-devouring behemoth as Mrs Scrubbit, the lairy landlady to whom Wonka gets unscrupulously indentured, while her henchman Bleacher (Tom Davis) has a voice so extraordinary only a whale’s rear end could mimic it.
The plot is slim enough to scribble on the back of a sweet wrapper: Wonka wants to open a shop – not on our turf, says the evil chocolate cartel. You might guess who wins out, but it’s the hugely endearing characters (even if they only have one recurring line, like Matt Lucas’s cartel member Prodnose) and the rib-rattling script that whip this along like a jackrabbit on a sugar high.
So… the big Chalamet question. Does he wear the Wonka top hat well? Much better than Johnny Depp (slightly icky) and closer to Gene Wilder’s loveable original. In fact, the 27-year-old smashes it with his mysterious stealth voodoo screen presence.
Teenager Calah Lane, as Wonka’s orphan wing-girl Noodle, is a charm, and Patterson Joseph’s camply contorted eyebrow-wiggles as candy-bigwig Slugworth are divine. But you haven’t mentioned HIM! I hear you scream. I can report that Hugh Grant as the inches-high, satsuma-faced Oompa Loompa, who stalks Wonka like a debt collector, is a total riot.
Someone recently asked me what Wonka has to do to win over British hearts. Given the state of things, I said all it needed do is make people feel good. The morning after seeing it, this musical-phobic writer was loofah-ing in the shower and still gleefully singing, “Ooompa, loopma, doompety doo…”. So I'd say, mission accomplished.
Wonka is in cinemas from December 8