At the beginning of the fourth chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a formidable novel for children (and adults with the soul of a child), published in 1964 by Roald Dahl, the English writer tells how Willy Wonka, the best chocolatier in the world, had to face the tricks of his competitors by firing his workers and later closing the business for a time since most of them were spies at the service of the rest of the factories, employed there to steal their secret recipes. That economic (and even social) detail, included in a children’s novel full of magic, said much more than what was apparently narrated: Dahl treated the kids as thinking beings.
That Dahl, author of such emblematic titles for literature as The witches, Matilda and James and the Giant Peach, continues to be a reference for contemporary family cinema, is still a cause for celebration. And the fact that Wonkaprequel to the novel and its two film adaptations —A fantasy world (Mel Stuart, 1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton, 2005) — recover those three evil business opponents, Slugworth, Fickelgruber and Prodnose, to turn them no longer into the tertiary characters of Stuart and Burton’s films, but into true antagonistic villains, and quote verbatim that it is of “a cartel that aims to eliminate any type of competition”, also says a lot about Paul King: the screenwriter and director who has invented a past for Wonka, narrating his beginnings from the most absolute poverty to triumph with his delicious trinkets, and also doing it around the musical, a genre that always resists but is still one of the most risky for the box office.
Without reaching excellence, everything is remarkably composed in the film by King, author of the two wonderful installments of the bear Paddington. The songs and music of Neil Hannon, leader of the Northern Irish group The Divine Comedy, and Joby Talbot, British composer, measure up, although they have to deal with the fact that the catchiest song ends up being the legendary Oompa Loompa, already present in Stuart’s version, although with new arrangements. Timothée Chalamet, without having a great voice, passes with flying colors thanks, above all, to that charisma that bothers some and many others fall in love with. And the secondary court is full of great ideas and presences. Olivia Colman and Tom Davis shine as a couple of scoundrels who run an inn-laundry converted into a prison for the unwary, which it is not difficult to see is inspired by the extravagant Thénardiers from the musical The Miserablesand in the criminal barbers of Sweeney Todd. Jim Carter, the sober butler of Downton AbbeyRowan Atkinson, again as a priest with shades of Mr. Bean, and Matt Lucas, the hilarious comedian of Litthe Britain, are here to stretch their best virtues by doing practically the same thing, but in other environments. And Hugh Grant, dwarfed with digital techniques, with an orange face and green hair, manages to steal from Chalamet all the sequences of him as the most original of the Oompa loompa.
Perhaps the dance numbers lack a classical director experienced in the genre, or an editor without such a rush like Mark Everton, and there the sequence of the number in the square, with dozens of couples dancing side by side, acts as a paradigm for not hold the most expressive shots for many more frames. But Wonka more than meets both the universe of Roald Dahl, in its sweetest and most hopeful version, and the classic atmosphere of a musical starring street children massacred by power, social circumstances and cruelty, of which Oliver, Annie and The Gang may be its best examples, and in which King’s film knows how to look at itself with reverential respect.
Address: Paul King.
Interpreters: Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant, Paterson Joseph.
Gender: musical. UK, 2023.
Duration: 116 minutes.
Premiere: 6th of December.
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