Since 1923 • For a greater Loyola

The Maroon

Since 1923 • For a greater Loyola

The Maroon

Since 1923 • For a greater Loyola

The Maroon

“Wonka” review: A real stomach-ache

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The first time the character of Willy Wonka graced the silver screen, he limped down a red carpet, and in a 1920s silent-comedy fashion, turned a fall into a surprise barrel roll, a swift, simple gesture that immediately established the enigma he was. Mel Stuart’s 1971 “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” is a sweet-smelling, mouth-watering classic. Practically a ‘70s time capsule, there is a dreamy richness to the scary humor and brutal unconventionality of the film, especially for its time. Nothing beats the entirely-edible garden Willy Wonka conceives, except for maybe Wonka’s shocking, colorful boat-ride monologue.

Balancing childlike whimsy while, simultaneously, critiquing consumerism and the effects of our unquenchable hunger for it, is handled fantastically by Stuart in his “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”: a cautionary tale made to warn, to inspire, and to make the unbelievable, believable.

The prequel-piece, Paul King’s 2023 “Wonka,” loses the edge of both the original and its 2005 remake by Tim Burton, instead opting for a derivative iteration that basks itself in cheesy dialogue and clunky, computer-generated visuals.

Budding actor Timothee Chalamet stars as the titular madman, surrounded by an eclectic group of not-so-eclectic tropes. The film retells the classic Roald Dahl story, covering the origin that had not yet been put to film, but dawns a new perspective that appeals to a younger generation.

Writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby toss anything subliminal out the window, opting for a straightforward, formulaic children’s comedy. “Wonka” is infused with song and dance and strives for musical status. Unfortunately, the songs make about as much impact as rain on a windowpane. Its two predecessors also contained wonky, musical numbers, but each number would add more mystery or insanity to the already manic swirl of Willy Wonka’s nonsensical self and chocolate factory.

Every version of Willy Wonka’s story tends to feature the most preposterous candy that transcends human conception. But in “Wonka,” there is nothing left to imagine. The lack of practical effects for something so simple as candy hurts the performances and the overall production design.

The mysterious magic that lies under the chocolate-maker’s surface is put on full display, in glorious CGI. But that is not to discredit the work put into “Wonka,” as digital rendering is an often underpaid, underpraised job with impossible turnarounds. It is a shame that the vision was so misguided, as you can tell there was some passion all around.

“Wonka” reintroduces the antagonizing chocolate-makers Slugworth, Prodnose, and Fickelgruber, as the triad of tangible villains orchestrating life behind the scenes. Compared to their previous brief mentions in Stuart’s and Burton’s films, King offers them more screen-time and presence, but adds no dimension beyond their surface-level motivations and predictable arcs.

Apart from relentless, outspoken acclaim, Chalamet has proven his strength as an actor. His performances in both 2016’s “Call Me by Your Name” and 2019’s “Beautiful Boy” are pretty stellar. Chalamet made a slight shift in his career of mostly flawed and solemn acting roles, adding the infamous chocolate-maker to his arsenal. Like Depp, one of the most acclaimed and desired actors of his time, the makers behind “Wonka” sought the starpower Chalamet holds. Allure goes a long way, and attracted audiences would – no doubt – flock to theaters to see the young star make some candy.

It is difficult to compete with the eternal Gene Wilder and his dynamite performance as Willy Wonka. Wilder’s Wonka has an admirable core and a funny facade, but acts almost as a slasher in a horror film, crossing off each undeserving, misbehaving child, using their own faults as the vehicles to their consequences. Depp’s chocolate-maker is so inwardly eccentric that it comes pouring out of everything he says and does. His Wonka still holds a glint of malaise, and his spoiled ticket-holders meet their fates all the same.

But Chalamet portrays a kind, respected, and level character that no version of Willy Wonka has ever been. This Wonka struggles as a newcomer in the competitive market of candy creations and indentured servitude, but manages to keep himself reigned in and his head steady through it all. Though advertised as a prequel, it is hard to believe Chalamet’s Wonka would develop into a Wilder or Depp after the “Wonka” curtains drop. This change could have worked if it added something worthwhile to the narrative, but it just rebrands the character using a cookie cutter mold in an uninspired world.

If today’s big-shot filmmakers could pour a shred of the energy they exhaust remaking classics for a cash-grab into making relevant, original stories that deserve to be seen, then the future of cinema would have some taste again.

And if Dahl took issue with the “sappy” and overt “sentiment” in Stuart’s adaptation, it can be assumed he would not have even given King’s the time of day.

“Wonka” is now playing in theaters

1 out of 5 stars

 

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  • J

    Jeffrey McGuintyJan 28, 2024 at 11:31 pm

    Who hurt you

    Reply
  • G

    Gary SpearJan 28, 2024 at 8:41 am

    Wonka is pure imagination to start with. Imagine a magical world within a world that has real bad corporate thieves that get beat at their own game. This movie takes you away from the now and brings your imagination to someone winning and helping the friends around him, it’s not real it’s Imagination. Let this movie take you away, forget about Gene Wilders amazing character or Johnny Depp’s Different version of what is supposed to be the same character. Try to Imagine something new. This is a Great feel good Movie. Without trying to like it to any other adaptation. Bring the Children Bring the seniors this was a Great movie

    Reply
  • T

    Tom MillerJan 27, 2024 at 9:29 pm

    I give this review 1 out of 5 stars. The movie is minimally a 4 and the theater in which I screened it, about 75% full, broke into spontaneous applause at the movie’s end. My three grandkids (15, 13, 11) and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would see it again.

    Reply