A lovelorn queer teenager; a brooding Duke of a mythical empire; a romantic cannibal. Timothée Chalamet has chocked up quite the resumé in a matter of years. Yet no role seems to be as tailor-made for the exuberant actor until now: Wonka.
I belong to the era where Johnny Depp was Willy Wonka and Gene Wilder’s iteration would occasionally crop up on the internet. And for this generation, Chalamet takes on the heavy mantle, only as a jolly wide-eyed young Willy, with Wonka delivering a much-needed prequel for the pivotal character from Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
Spearheaded by the masterminds of Paddington writer Simon Farnaby and writer-director Paul King, it’s fair to assume that this Willy Wonka is in fact, safe for kids. The film opens with a highly-anticipated musical number, where Chalamet’s vocal chops resound for the first time (not counting those brief skits from Saturday Night Live). It is also in the very first scene where he inexplicably eradicates what you ever knew of Willy Wonka. Not the bitter, devoid-of-emotion reclusive chocolatier we saw in Depp, but young Willy is heroic, naive to the point of gullible, and genuinely seems to love children.
To that end, Chalamet’s natural boyish charisma shines through while portraying a character as such. The haughty smirk, the twinkle in his eyes as he unrelentlessly trudges on to achieve his lifelong dream—to show the world that he’s the best chocolate maker in the world.
As the show runs on, this lion-hearted ambition gets Willy very far. And it takes alot to take Willy down, not crafty scammers masterfully portrayed by Olivia Coleman and Tom Davis, not evil chocolate conglomerates or not even one thieving Oompa-Loompa that reminds us why Hugh Grant still is the undefeated king of Christmas.
Willy’s spark burns brighter than the sun, so much so it captivates and moves those that he encounters. One being young orphan Noodle, played by Calah Lane, who quickly becomes Willy’s ally and driving force to succeed in his endeavour.
A major part of the film’s success would be its immersive set, which gave way to a sensorial feast for the eyes. According to Chalamet, zero green screens were involved as everything was built from scratch. “Every day, getting on the set in Leavesden, then shooting in London, where I’d never shot before—it felt like entering this magical world that Paul King had realised and that David Hayman had stewarded—who famously stewarded Harry Potter, Barbie and these other movies that have very distinct palettes, sets and feelings to them. So, this was one of these incredibly magical sets to walk on,” remarks the Wonka lead.
And just like the magic-wielding chocolates concocted in the Wonka-verse, the film is a fun, wholesome treat to devour. Melding the good ol’ theatrical accompaniments of song and dance—which to my surprise, saw Chalamet executing with ease—the film at its core, is tender, humorous when it needs to be and a beaming ode to every hopeless dreamer.
Catch Wonka in theatres from 6 December.