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'Wonka:' Timothée's Version

When I was young, I was captivated by Gene Wilder's portrayal of Willy Wonka. He immersed me in a realm of pure imagination with his dry wit, innovative inventions, and of course, whimsical stair climbing. I was initially hesitant to see Wonka for that very reason, but now that I’ve watched it, I’m resolute in my conclusions. Timothée Chalamet injects a very distinct and youthful energy into the character in this original prequel, which follows Willy Wonka's evolution into the beloved confectioner. Despite my admiration for Chalamet, his performance doesn't feel like Wilder's or, God forbid, Johnny Depp's. Nor does it bring anything new to the character. 

The 2023 film follows Wonka (Chalamet) as he navigates the high-stakes world of chocolatiering. Along his journey, he accumulates debt at a local inn and must do unglamorous work to pay it off. Instead of toiling through the tasks, Wonka decides to sell his chocolate creations alongside fellow debt accumulators, including Noodle (Calah Lane) an orphan embarking on a journey to locate her parents. The rival chocolatiers do everything in their power to stop Wonka’s success. 


After enduring just ten minutes of cringe-worthy musical clichés blatantly explaining what to expect within the next two hours of the movie, I found myself checking my watch to see how much more of it I had to sit through. The writers' attempt to give all its characters depth falls flat, rendering them shallow and uninteresting. When Noodle finally reunites with her mother at the end of the film, the reunion lacks impact on the audience. Her whole character arc seems more like an afterthought to try to tug on the audience’s heartstrings; it did not. Likewise, the decision to depict Willy as illiterate adds nothing substantial to the plot, and it serves merely as a setup for two half-ass jokes about how his illiteracy puts him into compromising situations.

Admittedly, I was pleasantly surprised to see Keegan Michael Key as the dimwitted Chief of Police. His character was the only one that made me audibly laugh out loud. Key's impeccable delivery exudes a charm that, unfortunately, is lacking in all the other characters. There were obvious attempts at humor among the supporting cast, but the majority of the jokes fell flat. One win for Keegan Michael Key.


The only thing worse than the stereotypical character tropes is the music. I had low expectations to begin with, not only because I find unnecessary musical insertions annoying, but also because the 1971 film set a high bar with its respective soundtrack. The lyrics were subpar and predictable, resembling the work of someone with little to no songwriting experience. Lyricist Niel Hannon has an extensive discography, however, none of his songs are widely regarded, and if they are, it’s not for the lyrics.

During a bonding moment between Willy and Noodle, Noodle breaks out into a seemingly heartwarming song, “For a Moment,” in which the first chorus is “for a moment, life doesn't seem quite so bad, for a moment, I kind of forgot to be sad.” Willy then proceeds to sing “Noodle, Noodle, apple strudel and some people do-dle.” The heartwarming moment was immediately ruined for me. Sure, the lyrics get the point across that Noodle feels like she has a purpose now that she is working toward something with Willy, but it feels like a lazy attempt to convey that message.


All of the songs are like earworms; even now, I can still hear "Scrub, Scrub" echoing in the back of my brain. Chalamet's rendition of "Pure Imagination" is nothing to write home about and doesn't remotely compare to Wilder's version. The only redeeming song was Hugh Grant's rendition of "Oompa Loompa," and even then, the post-credit reprise was more entertaining than what made it into the movie. The utter lack of Oompa Loompas (plural) in this movie is appalling. There was only one and it was just Hugh Grant. Some – myself included – would argue that they are the best part of the Willy Wonka story.

There was never a demand for another Willy Wonka movie. It’s just another rendition of a reliable story being remade to make a lot of money. Perhaps if I were ten years younger and hadn't seen the first two movies, I would have enjoyed Wonka a lot more. It's interesting to think that the current generation of children will go on to associate Timothée Chalamet with the character. While children might enjoy the singing and dancing and whimsicality of the story, Wonka leaves little for the parents to chew on as there are no cheeky innuendos or “touché” references. Living up to Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp is a demanding task, and I've always considered Chalamet a somewhat versatile actor, but after watching Wonka, I think he should maybe stick to alternative teen romance movies. The film serves as a reminder that, even with a new perspective and a new leading man, some legacies are best left untouched rather than attempting to reinvent them.


-Sophie

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