Willy Wonka, the eccentric chocolatier created by British author Roald Dahl who first appeared in his beloved 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is given a lavish new origin story in the musical fantasy Wonka.
Set to a string of toe-tapping tunes penned by Neil Hannon of pop outfit The Divine Comedy, Wonka introduces audiences to Wonka as he arrives in an idyllic European city, where he hopes to sell his unique range of magical chocolates.
On his first night in town, the penniless chef is duped by Olivia Colman’s scheming landlady Mrs Scrubbit, and her dim-witted henchman, Bleacher (Tom Davis), into incurring a massive debt, which he must pay off by working interminable hours in her miserable laundry room.
With the help of Scrubbit’s other prisoners, including young chambermaid Noodle (Calah Lane) and Jim Carter’s former accountant, Willy sneaks out and sets up shop in the city centre. His exotic wares soon attract the ire of a cabal of villainous rival chocolatiers, who enlist the chief of police to run him and his all-too-affordable chocolates out of town.
Arriving in the wake of a slew of big-budget prequels that attempt to reimagine, and often exonerate, such characters as Cruella de Vil or Loki, audiences might be forgiven for approaching Wonka with a degree of caution.
All reservations are soon tossed aside, however, thanks to the magical combination of King’s assured direction and a genuinely charismatic turn from the ceaselessly versatile Chalamet.
Part Wizard of Oz, part Mary Poppins, Chalamet’s interpretation is one of earnest ambition coupled with a selfless desire to spread happiness through sugary treats, and recaptures more than a little of Gene Wilder’s iconic turn as Wonka in the beloved film version from 1971.
He holds his own as part of an impressive ensemble cast that also includes Sally Hawkins as his mother, Keegan-Michael Key as the Chief of Police, and the delightfully dastardly trio of Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas and Matthew Baynton.
Stealing the show is Hugh Grant, a deadpan delight as Lofty, the mischievous Oompa-Loompa harbouring a long-time grudge against Wonka.
The result is a candy-coated, endlessly inventive, and unashamedly good-natured adventure guaranteed to soften the hearts of even the most cynical of viewers, and to transport them into a world of pure imagination.