Review: WONKA

Doing reviews for Last Movie Outpost can be strange. We refuse to regurgitate press packs and take “pwesents” in return for positive coverage, so we don’t get invited to a lot of advanced screenings. As we are cynical bastards, with real lives outside of our online community, our days of rushing off to a preview or an opening night screening are few and far between. So we tend to catch a lot of stuff as it hits for home viewing, like Wonka.

This can be interesting, as the release hype will have died down. It can also be tricky, as all sorts of preconceived notions can have had time to embed themselves. Wonka also faced a particular uphill struggle with me.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was my favorite childhood book. I adore the 1971 adaption and consider Gene Wilder to be unsurpassable. The Tim Burton version is a travesty. I have been to see Sam Mendes’ excellent stage adaption twice.

I have also just finished reading Charlie And The Chocolate Factory to my children, 4 & 6 at the time, for their bedtime story. This has been done complete with voices, actions and songs. My Augustus Gloop is, to be fair, borderline racist but my Veruca Salt is potentially award-winning.

With this feeling of investment in the world of Willy Wonka, it was with a huge sense of trepidation that I sat down to watch Wonka this past weekend with the kids. This was my childhood on the line, and this is Hollywood. So I expected the worst. So… how was it?


You know they are leaning in, quite deliberately, when the first few bars of the soundtrack are a variant of Pure Imagination. Then, like all good musicals, straight off the bat they start with a big song and dance number. They aren’t holding back anything here and the tone is set straight from the start.

Immediately I find myself… not hating it.


It’s a brave start, and a strong start. What immediately strikes you is that it’s completely in the style of a classic, old musical. It’s very well done with storytelling baked in and scene-setting lyrics in the tradition of the great Broadway and West End productions. It also clearly sets its stall out with some nice callbacks to the 1971 adaption, like a barely noticeable two-step reversal up some stairs akin to Wilder in the Chocolate Room.

I find myself thinking… nice touch.

It already has a feel that says Paddington meets Harry Potter, presented as if for a very big stage. None of this is a bad thing.

British comedian and actor Tom Davis (Murder In Succesville, League Of Their Own: Roadtrip) then turns up in a fun role that turns out to be surprisingly huge. Straight after this, we get Olivia Coleman doing some classic Music Hall-style acting, clearly relishing the role and having a great time.



All this happens while lead Timothee Chalamet gives it his all in the style of a stage musical star, from line delivery to emoting. He gets it. You really do feel as if you are watching a massively budgeted West End production and begin to look forward to a drink at the bar in the interval, it is that perfectly pitched as such.

I find myself thinking… I am really enjoying this.

I am probably enjoying this mostly because everyone involved in the production seems to have been enjoying it. It’s infectious. It gets exactly what it is, what it wants to be. It sets out to find its tone and absolutely nails it. You also get the feeling that a lot of people both in front of, and behind the camera in this film also loved the book.


There is some great stuff with the Chocolate Mafia and a corrupt police chief. Fun turns from British TV comedy stalwarts like Patterson Joseph and Matt Lucas really work. Then Rich Fulcher from The Mighty Boosh turns up, complete with his Bob Fossil underwater voice, and you know you are in on the joke with the whole thing.

It’s good, old-fashioned, silly fun. It has just the right amount of childishness, but with original author Roald Dahl’s trademark grim darkness juxtaposed against fun. His usual themes of hard childhoods still having joy, but being afflicted by difficulty, are all present and correct. There are wonderfully Wonkian moments, like the consideration of Yeti sweat as an ingredient, and the need to milk a giraffe.

Even the supporting child actress, who should be annoying almost by Hollywood law, isn’t. Calah Lane’s child-like stage star delivery and earnest acting are, again, straight out of a show. They know exactly what they are doing here. Even the song You’ve Never Had Chocolate Like This feels machine-crafted to contain the musical refrain you expect to lead into an interval.


It is nearly an hour before Hugh Grant turns up as a sarcastic, self-centred Ooompa Loompa that has more than his fair share of laugh-out-loud moments. There is a superbly bonkers chocolate conspiracy and a denouement that owes more than expected to the legends of Al Capone, as per The Untouchables, but played out in this world that feels like a Wes Anderson creation with added singing. That is not actually a bad thing here.

By the time it enters the home stretch I find myself thinking… this movie is a fucking delight!

Look. I am as surprised as you are. I like to stay in my lane and my lane usually involves alien killing machines, drug dealers, car chases, and crooked feds hunting ex-special forces soldiers that they really should have left alone.


Yet I found myself being seduced by this new family movie, based on a well-loved classic, that manages to not destroy the legacy but actually adds to it. It’s actually a bit of a work of genius.

Chalamet is really good. He attacks the whole thing with gusto, tackling it like he’s in Vaudeville and we are all in the audience in the theater. Even then, he manages to show some subtle moments of disinterested psychopathy, especially when he wants something, that means you really could see him growing into Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka.

A note about the scoring. The score I am about to give is for Wonka in its bracket. Its bracket is the world of Paddington, Harry Potter, the 1968 adaption of Oliver! In that bracket, it sits near the very top.

At the end I found myself thinking… I feel… nice. I feel happy. I don’t hate absolutely everything anymore. Don’t worry, it soon passed, but just for a fleeting moment, there was some magic.


Check back every day for movie news and reviews at the Last Movie Outpost

LMO Fcaebook LMO Instagram LMO Twitter LMO YouTube LMO Social Discord

Check back every day for movie news and reviews at the Last Movie Outpost