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Wonky “Wonka,” a puzzling prequel

“So quiet up, no, scratch that, reverse it!” is the whimsical, quirky line that’s thrown out from Wonka’s movie trailer. Yet another spin on the beloved tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, we follow an optimistic Willy Wonka in his youth and his journey to sharing chocolate.

The idea of “Wonka” itself is an odd one. Marketed as a prequel of the 1971 “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” I was surprised such a film was to release in 2023, albeit, nobody was really expecting or wanting a Willy Wonka backstory. I’ll start with what I did enjoy the most: the music. Despite some criticisms over the new Willy Wonka movie being a musical, what people fail to realize is all the previous movies were musical oriented as well. From Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination”, or even the bits and pieces of the singing Oompa Loompa in Tim Burton’s 2005 version, the Willy Wonka movies have always incorporated some sort of musical number in them. “Wonka” 2023 lives up to expectations. Starring Timothee Chalamet as the renowned chocolatier, songs such as “A Hatful of Dreams,” have entertaining choreography and visuals, and the rendition of Pure Imagination is fun and enjoyable to listen to. 

However, there are still some elements within this new movie that fall flat. Going into it, I expected the movie to have a darker turn, almost like the 2005 movie. With the movie being pushed out as a prequel, the audience already has a satisfied ending. Nobody really asked for a Willy Wonka backstory, and it feels unnecessary to create one. This optimistic, go-lucky Wonka isn’t as eerie or unnerving (yet). One could argue that it’s because Chalamet’s character is much younger than the previous, and the story has the chance to start fresh from the beginning, but the reasoning for every plot point feels dull. Willy’s reasoning to start a factory because of his mother’s chocolate feels weak, and the movie giving the characters exactly what they wanted at the very end seems too perfect of an ending. Overall, my feeling of the movie saw Chalamet’s Wonka and Wilder’s Wonka as two completely different characters.

Antagonists such as Mrs. Scrubbit and Bleacher are fun obstacles to see Willy get himself into, but the overarching conflict of Wonka chocolate versus the three major chocolatiers in the city feel too childish. The main antagonists, Slugworth, Fickelgruber, and Prodnose, only create a chocolate cartel through ridiculous reasons, with no introspective, serious moment where the audience recognizes the threat is real, when there are constant humorous jabs throughout the conflict. The plot is predictable, and it’s easy to guess where the story is heading with everything seemingly going wrong in the right way for Team Wonka. 

Despite all this, “Wonka” has been nominated for 2024 People’s Choice Comedy Movie of the Year, and has made $400 million worldwide. Even with its flaws however, I think “Wonka” is worth the watch if you’re looking for a feel good, simplistic movie with music and mischief.

Overall star rating: 3.5/5

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