The Dark Herald Recommends: Wonka 

The Dark Herald Recommends: Wonka 

This film is kind of a toss-up. 

It’s got a bunch of small things going for it but a few big things going against it.  

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory got its start when Roald Dahl was in school and the ferocious rivals of Cadbury and Rowntree would send sample boxes of their chocolates to various schools as part of their market research. The thing is these two companies really did hate each other and were constantly trying to steal each other’s recipes and confectionary techniques. They both became extremely security conscious to the point where these factories had turned into, (in the minds of school boys), mysterious fortresses where the best chocolate in the world was made… If you didn’t live in Belgium.  

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was not an instant classic when Paramount first released it. Roald Dahl had disowned the film prior to it’s release. There were vague rumors about some unpleasantness regarding the Oompa-Loompas.* Worse, it was a children’s musical when the genre of musicals for any audience were on their way out. It collected some generally positive reviews and a few Oscar nominations but it was widely believed to be dead and buried at the end of its run. I think the general view at the time was that it was Disney without the Walt.  

Time, reruns, and videotapes proved this assumption, wrong. Maybe it just showed up a little too early. Gen X was mostly in diapers or didn’t exist yet in 1971, and there was a sense of the cheerfully macabre to it (that whole business with the chicken) that appealed to my generation. I can understand why Dahl wanted nothing to do with it but Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory became a classic.  

While there was a sequel written, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was out of date by the mid-1970s and truthfully would not have appealed to fans of the 1971 movie. There were attempts to drastically rewrite scripts around it but those all thankfully died in development.  

Consequently, Willy Wonka remained kind of a one-off until Johhny Depp’s weird and off-putting remake. I know what Depp and Burton were trying for but they missed the mark by a mile. Everyone assumed the property was dead.  

So I was a little surprised when this film came out of nowhere.  The trailer looked kind of interesting so I decided to give a look. 

Here’s a few things upfront. You are not getting the film you saw in the trailer. This film is even more of a musical than the 1971 version, and let’s be clear from the start this movie is based on that movie and not the works of Roald Dahl. 

It functions (if only just) as a prequel to Gene Wilder’s version of Wonka. So fans of the book are out of luck again, which I am sad to say was completely expected. The Roald Dahl estate is the worst-operated, mostly completely Woke-ass literary vandals currently not employed by Disney. 

I admit that I immediately soured quite a bit when I saw “The Roald Dahl Company” so prominently featured in the opening credits. I know who owns and who runs it. I tried to get over it but really couldn’t. 

However, this film isn’t really all that Woke. It has Woke-washed casting but Slugworth was played by a black actor so the usual Woke storylines were not in play.  

So what did this movie get right? Truthfully, quite a lot. This was meant to be a kid’s film and it is. The aesthetic is colorful and bombastic, which it needs to be.  The characters are really more caricatures which is all they need to be. Costumes are more clownish and features are more exaggerated. 

This is definitely a musical. At certain story beats the narrative stops in cold in its tracks and all the characters sing and dance for a few non-diegetic minutes. The song and dance numbers do their job of atmospheric storytelling. While the plot doesn’t move forward at all, some emotional layering has been added to the production. There are a ton of backstories in this film and it does the good and proper thing by showing rather than telling the audience what happened in the past. Frankly, that has been getting pretty thin on the ground in Hollywood for the past few years and I’m glad somebody finally remembered that particular fundamental from Creative Writing 101. 

This is, at the end of the day, a show that is for Generation Alpha rather than the Zoomers and it is appropriate for little kids. I’m honestly surprised it didn’t get a G rating.  

BUT it has two big problems. One the running time is two hours long and you feel it. You feel every minute of it. That is honestly too long for a little kids’ movie. It needed to be cut down. 

However, the bigger problem is Willy Wonka himself. First and foremost Willy Wonka should never be the main protagonist of his own story.  

The story should have been about Noodle and her hard-knock life. Things are miserable for the girl, she’s beaten in a PG rated acceptable manner by Mrs. Scrubbit, she goes to bed hungry every night dreaming of having parents and a family. She almost gets a family and then has it taken away again. Her life is nothing but pain, misery, and despair. Then when she is at her lowest point and just wants to give up and die in the snow in Little Match Girl fashion, the audience hears the opening chimes of Pure Imagination and the shadow of a man in a top hat, long coat, holding cane falls over her.  Willy Wonka then whisks her away on an adventure that will end with her in the arms of her mother.

I suspect but can’t prove that that was what the script probably looked like at first but then Warner Brothers signed Timothée Chalamet. At that point, the script had to be rewritten to showcase their new star. Which brings me to the film’s biggest problem. 

They also got Willy Wonka wrong. 

Willy Wonka is not a character that should have a backstory. He’s a Merlin. A Loki. A chocolate-themed trickster god. He should not be a real person with real problems. He’s a character that fixes problems for the good and punishes the wicked, (albeit not excessively). He doesn’t moan about his mother, he finds some child that’s being crushed by the wheel of fate and then breaks that wheel.   

And if you are thinking of going because you want to see Hugh Grant’s Oompa-Lompa, bad news you already have. All of his scenes are in the trailers, there are no others in the film. 

Except for the end. The one part of the film the makers got completely right was the denouement. When Willy Wonka finally finds Noodle’s Mother and then builds his chocolate factory staffed with Grant-Oompa-Lompa. It just took too long and took too many roundabouts to get there.  

For me at least. 

There were plenty of people who liked this film a lot more than I did. 

There are some early predictions of disaster for this film but I suspect it has legs. Christmas break starts this week and the breakdown of the audience demographic leans strongly into tweener girls. Not surprising in the least because Timothée Chalamet looks like the cutest boy in any junior high. 

I’ve seen worse this year but I’ve seen better as well. At the end of the day, I wanted a lot more than it delivered. 

The Dark Herald Recommends with Reservations. (3/5) 

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*Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was shot in West Germany. This presented a major problem when it came to Oompa-Loompas. They had to bring in Turkish little people to play them. For reasons the Germans found exceptionally awkward, there wasn’t much of a dwarf population in Munich at that time. 

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