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Wonka (PG, 116 minutes)
“What do you get when you guzzle down sweets
Eating as much as an elephant eats?”
For my age group, and at least up to the age of my eldest son, there is only one person that encapsulates the character of Willy Wonka. 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a dark, bad acid trip of a movie and 52 years later I’m still not sure whether Gene Wilder’s portrayal is one of childlike innocence or a psychopath who shouldn’t have been allowed within 10 miles of kids, ever!
But it had that Roald Dahl edge. A hint of naughtiness to it
So, considering how many times I’m probably going to have to sit through this new incarnation (I have grandchildren after all) there are a couple of reservations:
Firstly, I detest musicals and this one, with new songs from The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, sits firmly in the Chitty Chitty Bang Band/Mary Poppins school which even as a seven year-old I found far too happy clappy for their own good. I was half expecting a CGI Lionel Jeffries or David Tomlinson to pop up at any moment.
Secondly, I don’t like prequels because you already know what comes after – in this case, carnage at the chocolate factory; squirrel attack, giant blueberry etc. – and has anyone ever thought to themselves, while watching the classic, or even the Depp version, I wonder how he started out? Admit it, NO!
Created by the makers of Paddington 2 (the best kids film for decades), Wonka sees Timothée (how do you pronounce that, by the way – like the shampoo?) Chalamet stepping off a boat in what looks like southern Europe onto the roof of a 1950s-era truck that quickly takes him into a 19th century eastern European town centre where a who’s who of British comedy all speak Dick van Dyke cockernee or plumb in mouth fake posh and the police are dressed like the constabulary from the first two black and white Frankenstein films.
Young Willy’s precocious confectionary talent puts him at odds with a cabal of scheming chocolate makers who are keeping a reservoir of chocolate hidden beneath a church guarded by a crooked cleric (Rowan Atkinson) and his group of choc-addicted monks.
Naivety quickly lands the hero in a prison laundry (no free Willy jokes, thank goodness) run by Olivia Coleman, who is incapable of being anything but brilliant even amidst such cringeworthy fayre.
Here she is ably abetted by comedian Tom Davies, who spends much of his screen time in lederhosen that are at least three sizes too small for him.
Although Timotei shows he has some unexpected chops as a song and dance man (I suppose) it’s a long wait for the film’s real saving grace – just over an hour in fact – before Hugh Grant puts in a show-stealing performance as an Oompa Loompa.
Grant has really found his niche in recent years and every moment he is on camera here is a comedic joy. But he is woefully underused and once he has made his entrance any subsequent scene that doesn’t include him is all the worse for it.
I can see the grandkids loving this, which is not good for me because I’m diabetic and all this sugary sweetness will be the death of me.
“What are you at, getting terribly fat
What do you think will come of that?”
I don’t like the look of it…