At The Movies With Josh: Wonka

I loved “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” but never saw the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp remake. I remember the late film critic Roger Ebert saying about that remake, “Why remake a movie that’s already great? Studios should remake the turkeys, and fix what was wrong with them.”

Yet prequels are an interesting cash grab for studios. They have that built in audience already, as well as name recognition for the film. 

I remember with the Han Solo movie five years ago, my wife was disappointed because she didn’t see that teenage Solo becoming the one Harrison Ford played in the classic Star Wars. I argued he was young, so you can’t just assume they’d be the exact same person. Yet that was one of my big beefs with Timothee Chalamet in this. Now, I’m a fan of his work (“Lady Bird” was one of my favorite movies of 2017), yet he didn’t have the edginess or charisma that I felt was needed. On top of that, this was a musical, and he doesn’t have the best singing voice. The songs weren’t catchy, either (the song “Scrub Scrub” had music very similar to the “When You’re Good to Mama” from “Chicago”). 

Director Paul King, who had success with the “Paddington'' films, really dropped the ball on this origin story. We get an opening that feels like Sweeney Todd’s arrival in London. Yet where he wants to set up shop, there are a trio of evil dudes running the chocolate/candy connection – Prodnose (Matt Lucas), Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), and Fickelgruber (Mathew Boynton). They realize Wonka’s candy is far superior, and bribe a police officer (the always funny Keegan-Michael Key) to keep Wonka out. And while their song with Key is the best of the bunch, the rest of the tunes were forgettable. The movie lacked the whimsy this story needs, and Chalamet quickly gets annoying. Newcomer Calah Lane is cute as Noodle, but quickly becomes a bit too precocious for me (and it feels like her character was better suited for “Annie”)

There is some interesting production design (the pop-up chocolate shop comes to mind), but a lot of it felt green screen-ish.

The start with Wonka being an indentured servant for Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman), feels very derivative and a bit stupid. Colman is fine delivering the lines she’s given, but it’s a shame they’re so bad. This movie also wasted the talents of the underrated Sally Hawkins, who we see in flashbacks as Willie’s mom.

I found out the movie was two hours long, and since often the screenings we attend start late for some reason (this one about 15 minutes late), my wife and I just decided that…since we hated the first 45 minutes, we might as well leave. We couldn’t imagine it would get any better. We didn’t even stay long enough to see Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa.

1 star out of 5, but with the caveat that I only reviewed the first half of it (From a critic I talked to, I understand the second half of it becomes less of a musical, but doesn’t get much better).

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