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Wonka

Year: 2023
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Paul King
Producer: Simon Farnaby/Paul King/Roald Dahl
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Olivia Colman, Matt Lucas, Keegan-Michael Key, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Grant

There hasn't been a more perfect example of how some films you see during your childhood have a magical quality and how the exact same film decades later might not have any impact whatsoever, not because of any creative deficit in the filmmaking or story but simply because of your relative ages.

The love among my generation (Gen X) for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is palpable, and along with a handful of others, it formed a night of almost holy significance when it played on TV (I was much too young to experience it in the cinema).

This prequel is just as competently written, staged, directed and has the requisite amount of songs, real world sets and in camera effects, enough of an element of danger and Timothée Chalamet has the perfect amount of talent, chemistry, physical look and childlike enthusiasm to channel all the best qualities Gene Wilder bought to the immortal role, despite looking nothing like him.

All of which means the problem in this case is me, not the movie. As a fiftysomething man (and an avowed hater of musicals nowadays) I just couldn't have cared less.

Wonka arrives in the unnamed town where he'll one day set up his mythical chocolate business. To begin with, his ambitions are just to open a chocolate shop, and he has his sights set on the vacant store in an indoor shopping centre.

He lands in a guesthouse run by a seemingly nice couple (one of whom is Olivia Colman, as game as ever to look cartoonishly ridiculous, playing a scowling harridan) who proceed to rip him off mercilessly, imprisoning him into servitude in the basement of their dingy establishment with a gang of similar captives, but it's still not enough to dampen Wonka's spirit, his dreams of his own store or (along with various others) bursting into song.

Even when he dreams up a plan to escape during the night and enact his grander vision alongside teenage partner in crime (Calah Lane), a cabal of local chocolatiers conspire to stop him and drive him out, resorting to a most unthinkable solution, and all with the collusion of the local constabulary (Keegan Michael Key).

The design is actually very clever, it evokes to some ephemeral 19th century and an era-appropriate European township without ever revealing the time or place, and the costuming, production design and art direction all pay homage to the original film.

The story will entertain kids fine enough, Hugh Grant as the sole oompa loompah provides both wry laughs for adults and enough connective tissue to the original film that will please fans, and if you love Disney films you'll also enjoy the musical numbers.

I'd be very curious to know if there are any 10 year olds who've love it for decades like I do Mel Stuart's 1971 original, but I doubt it – not because there's anything wrong with it (there's not), just because films don't seem to have that magical sheen for kids any more.

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