The theater was surprisingly full for a Saturday matinee of this family-friendly film. That was a happy post-pandemic reality. And it wasn’t until a point about three-quarters of the way through its nearly two-hour length that we found ourselves thinking, “This movie is too long.” But they wrapped it up in short order and we considered it to be a thoroughly enjoyable, colorful romp through Willie Wonka’s origin story.

Forget much of what you may love about Gene Wilder in 1971’s Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, if you can. There are plenty of musical reminders from the classic original and one memorable Oompa-Loompa played by Hugh Grant. But the somewhat sinister Wonka character in Wilder’s hands is played here by a younger, more auspicious, and magical Timothee Chalamet. Still, they both have a similar devilish sparkle in their eyes and exude comparable confidence in the transformative powers of their chocolates.


Wonka begins with Willie’s arrival by ship in a whimsical city that seems like a Disney World Epcot hybrid of London and Paris (it’s a Warner Brothers film.) He almost immediately falls victim to a nefarious couple of scammers who trick him with voluminous “small print” on a contract to rent a room for the night. He then joins forces with a half dozen similarly duped victims in a laundry dungeon where they hopelessly try to work off their debts.


Local law enforcement is corrupted by an evil triumvirate of cartel-like chocolate bosses who control the availability of a huge liquid cocoa supply. Bribes to the chief of police are paid in boxes of candy by Prodnose, Slugworth, and Fickelgruber to prevent Wonka from selling his chocolate.


Wonka is thus forced into a chocolate war on two fronts, using magic and secret recipes to create diversionary confections. If that’s not enough, a “little orange man with green hair” has been stealing his candy every night. Enter Hugh Grant as an eighteen-inch-tall nemesis who Wonka’s new friend Noodle (Calah Lane) doesn’t believe is real.


So, a lot is going on at all times, with frequent breaks for cute songs and choreography. As with most heroes, setbacks are temporary, and just when all hope is lost, someone or something saves the day.


Wonka is a box full of fun, a happy escape for a couple of hours, and a visual delight for kids and adults alike. I found one Oompa-Loompa to be quite enough, and I didn’t need the lure of a golden ticket to string me along. “Blasphemy,” I’m sure Gene Wilder fans would say, but really, fifty years for a prequel seems long enough to wait. I found myself craving chocolate soon after the film began.



Wonka (2023) runs 1 hour, 56 minutes and is rated PG.

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