KSL Movie Show review: ‘Wonka’ is sweet, upbeat, innocent

Dec 15, 2023, 8:00 AM | Updated: Feb 2, 2024, 9:54 am

Image of movie poster for the 2023 version of Wonka, accompanied by movie review....

(Warner Bros. Pictures - CineMaterial)

(Warner Bros. Pictures - CineMaterial)

SALT LAKE CITY — I almost hesitate to say it, but “Wonka” is the sweet, upbeat, innocent musical experience I was hoping it would be.  Why the hesitation?  Because for some, “sweet” means “weak” and “innocent” suggests “naïve.”  To which, this is neither. 

What it is is an origin story about a young man with a dream to be the world’s greatest chocolatier.  When we first meet Willy (Timothée Chalamet) he has served on a ship as a cook’s assistant, learning culinary skills and perfecting his craft of chocolate making.  His mother taught him all she knew about making chocolate and he took off from there.

Stepping on chocolate-covered toes

But now that his sailing days are over, he lands in a European city with the lofty goal of opening his own chocolate shop in the renowned Galeries Gourmet. Only there are already three acclaimed chocolate makers in the area and they want nothing to do with this newcomer and his fancy chocolates. They even had him arrested as he tried to sell his wares outside their shops.

Not knowing much of the way of the world and with little money in his possession, Wonka is sent to a rundown boarding house with a laundromat in the basement, in hopes of paying as he sells his chocolates.  Unfortunately, he trustingly signs a rental agreement from the unscrupulous Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and her muscle Bleacher that indentures him to work in the laundry even if his rent is a day late. 

The devil is in the details

He is warned by a young girl Noodle (Calah Lane) who is also under Mrs. Scrubbit’s grubby thumb, to read the fine print. But Wonka’s pride won’t allow him to admit that he can’t read, so he signs his life away unknowingly.

He soon discovers he’s not alone in this servitude, as he meets Abacus the accountant, Piper the plumber, Larry the joke teller, and Lottie the phone operator. All are forced to work off their vast debt in the steamy, grimy launderette. 

Not to be outwitted, Willy Wonka devises a plan to distract Scrubbit and Bleacher, so he and his new friends can secretly sell his delicious chocolates on the streets, with enough money to hopefully open his dream shop. But there will be many setbacks and obstacles to overcome. 

All the while, the movie is filled with enchanting set pieces, colorful characters, some dark Roald Dahl moments, but an eternal optimism that makes Wonka and his pals soar.

Enter the oompas

Which brings us to the more comedic moments – brought to us by the one crusty Brit who has created a second career, from the once bumbling romantic lead to now the acerbic, grouchy, but fair-minded Oompa Loompa called Lofty (played by the incomparable Hugh Grant).

This is where we learn that Willy once “borrowed” (okay, he stole) some rare cocoa beans from Oompa-land and Lofty has been sent to exact justice on the culprit no matter how long it takes.  Over time, Lofty has also “borrowed” much of Willy’s confections as repayment, but realizes the kid has enormous talent in creating the perfect chocolate.

So it turns out, “Wonka” blazes new trails with its origin tale, while also managing to pay homage to the 1971 Gene Wilder version, while skipping over the 2005 Johnny Depp effort, to create something magical, energetic and uplifting.  I believe this is destined to become a holiday classic. 

“Wonka” is rated PG for some violence, mild language, and thematic elements. Starring Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Olivia Colman, Keegan-Michael Key, Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Grant. Co-written and directed by Paul King (“Paddington” “Paddington 2”) and filmed in Bath, Somerset, England, UK. 116-minute run time. 

The KSL Movie Show with Andy Farnsworth and Steve Salles airs Fridays on KSL NewsRadio from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Follow the show on Facebook, and join The KSL Movie Show Club for exclusive perks by texting MOVIE to 57500.

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KSL Movie Show review: ‘Wonka’ is sweet, upbeat, innocent