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  • Colin Fraser

WONKA


THREE AND A HALF STARS How the world's most famous chocolate maker got his start.

MUSICAL COMEDY UK English #WONKA

Starring Timothy Chalamet, Olivia Coleman



Origin stories are seldom as, ahem, sweet as this tale about how Willie Wonka (he of The Chocolate Factory) got his start in life. But then, crafted as it is by the producers of PADDINGTON, how could it be otherwise?


The charming if slightly bonkers Wonka (a pitch perfect Timothy Chalamet) arrives by boat from somewhere faraway. Determined to make his name as the world’s most famous chocolatier, he sets about warming up his market with magical treats. It earns him the unwanted attention of the greedy chocolate cartel who immediately shut him down: you can’t get a shop without selling chocolate, you can’t sell chocolate without a shop. 


What’s more, Wonka’s own generosity has already placed him at the financial mercy of fearsome Mrs Scrubbit (Olivia Coleman) to whom he’s soon indentured alongside her other victims, young Noodle and old Mr Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter) among others. However the cunning young inventor is no stranger to a little magic and soon has Scrubbit and the cartel on the ropes. Which is all very well, but will he still be able to open his chocolate shop?


Of course he will. There are no prizes for guessing how this confection will turn out but the fun is in the journey, not the destination. And what a journey it is as Wonka and Noodle fend off their foes to make Willie’s dream come true. Cue song and dance as spectacular adventure and adventurous spectacle unfolds at a cracking pace.


If WONKA is brightly choreographed, its production is brighter still, burnished with a palate so intense it could induce a diabetic coma. A frothy musical score exacerbates the fizzy feeling, even though none of the songs are particularly memorable. Calling back the show stopping genius of Pure Imagination is very welcome, although its inclusion underlines the relative banality of the new score.


Scene-stealing turns from the hilarious Coleman, Peterson Joseph as the cartel’s frontman and a digitally enhanced Hugh Grant as one very purposeful Oompa-Loompa force much of the support cast into the background. Just as well, they make room for star Chalamet who is nothing short of delightful. He’s a pleasure to be with, effortlessly removing the bitter aftertaste of his future self to give us a generous and saccharine-free version of the world’s most famous chocolate maker.


Which does beg the question, what happened to Willie between the end of WONKA and the start of 1971’s WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY? What curdled his heart, why did he enslave the Oompa-Loopmas? That’s for the sequel perhaps, though I rather hope not. This may not be the instant classic some want it to be, but any problems are minor and forgivable. In the end, entertainment as, er, sweet, fun and innocent as WONKA don’t get made very often, and it’s simply scrumdidlyupmtious when they are.


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