Mail Online

Grumpy old Dahl would have hated this wonky Wonka

Review by Brian Viner

ROAL D Dahl loathed the 1971 film Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. But, then, the notoriously dyspeptic author hated a lot of things.

It doesn’t take much of a leap of the imagination to conclude that if Dahl was alive today, another of them would be Wonka, the freshly- minted ‘origin story’ of one of his most singular characters.

Paul King’s musical fantasy stars Timothee Chalamet as the eccentric chocolatier, who was created for Dahl’s 1964 book Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and was memorably played on the big screen first by Gene Wilder (much to the disgust of the author, who wanted Spike Milligan), then in a 2005 re-make by Johnny Depp.

Chalamet was an understandable choice as the youthful Wonka, not least because there are multitudes of young people who practically swoon at the mere mention of his name.

This phenomenon is known as Chalamania and I have seen it with my own eyes, most recently before last week’s world premiere of Wonka, at London’s royal Festival Hall.

The Chalamaniacs were there in force, screaming his name. So they might not forgive me for suggesting that he’s miscast.

But here goes anyway: Chalamet is too wholesome for this role, and never quite finds the charisma he needs to fully engage us as a song-and-dance man, in a film that also feels too derivative by half. Poor but cheerfully ambitious, Willy sets out to make his fortune in a city that is a kind of hybrid of Dickensian London and Belle epoque Paris.

Sadly, his plans to set up a fabulous chocolate shop with skills taught to him by his late beloved mother (Sally Hawkins, seen in flashback) soon go awry, as he finds himself imprisoned in a workhouse run by nasty Mrs Scrubbit (Olivia Colman, channelling Catherine Tate’s ill-tempered ‘nan’).

Another prisoner in the workhouse laundry is Abacus Crunch ( Jim Carter), genial former accountant to the city’s unscrupulous chocolate-making cartel, Slugworth (Patterson Joseph), Fickelgruber (Matthew Baynton) and Prodnose (Matt Lucas).

This dastardly trio have the chocolate-addicted chief of police (Keegan-Michael Key) on their payroll, not to mention a conniving cleric (rowan Atkinson). So even when Willy breaks out of the laundry with the help of his feisty young accomplice Noodle (newcomer Calah Lane), the odds are stacked against him. The cartel, grudgingly recognising his genius, must do all they can to stop him. And he has another apparent enemy – a rascally Oompa-Loompa (Hugh Grant, bizarrely shrunken by CGI).

THERE are some nice moments as all this unfolds, and a few good jokes – and a couple others that are downright whiskery. When Willy needs to milk a giraffe (to make his giraffemilk macaroons, obviously), it turns out that he’s milked one before, in Africa.

‘Was she wild?’ he is asked. You can see the gag coming even if you’re not old enough to remember none other than Atkinson, as Gerald the gorilla, in the television sketch show

Not The Nine o’Clock News 43 years ago. ‘She was absolutely furious,’ he replies. King and his co- writer Simon Farnaby teamed up to much greater and more original effect on the wonderful Paddington 2. Here, the whimsy too often feels forced.

For instance, some of Willy’s chocolates make people fly, which stretches credibility even in a fantasy (at least in the 1971 film it was fizzy lifting drinks that made Charlie and his grandpa float through the air).

The relationship between Willy and Noodle, the urchin, feels laboured too. It is meant to be the heartbeat of the narrative but as heartbeats go, it fades unhelpfully in and out. Conspicuous echoes of other, better

films don’t help either. A song in the workhouse reminds us that the score doesn’t hold a Victorian candle to Lionel Bart’s in the 1968 classic Oliver!

Food Glorious Food was an anthem for the ages; there’s nothing like that here. And even the mighty Colman isn’t nearly as terrifying as emma Thompson’s Miss Trunchbull in last year’s superb Matilda, a cinematic homage to a Dahl book that might actually have pleased the old grump.

even though one of the producers is Luke Kelly, Dahl’s grandson, I really don’t think this wonky Wonka would please him at all.

• Wonka will open in cinemas across the UK this Friday





dmg media (UK)