Posted on December 14, 2023 at 12:34 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some violence, mild language and thematic elements
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Candy with magical properties
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy peril and violence, character bullied and beat up, sad offscreen death of a parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: December 15, 2023

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers
“Wonka” is the origin story of everyone’s favorite fictional chocolatier, the central figure in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Anyone who ever wondered how Willy Wonka got started, how he developed his incomparably delicious and deliciously magical candies, built a factory, and met the Oompa-Loompas, will find all of that here and more. As we might expect from the people behind the Paddington films, it is brimming with whimsy, charm, and heart, and that is movie magic. The production design, by Nathan Crowley (“Interstellar,” “The Dark Knight”) is wonderfully intricate and tactile, mixing Dickensian touches and Rube Goldberg fancifulness. It just about qualifies as a world of pure imagination.

Timothee Chalet plays the young Wonka, who grew up on a boat with his mother (Sally Hawkins), a brilliant chocolatier who experimented with recipes as they visited exotic locations. As the movie begins, she has died, and he has come to a big European city (touches of London, Paris, and Vienna) to share his chocolates with the world.

Things go badly. His chocolates have people floating on air. Literally. But the three chocolate CEOs who control the market do not want the competition and they bribe a chocolate-loving local cop (Keegan-Michael Key) to keep him from selling his chocolate (yes, families will get a little introduction to cartels and the importance of enforcing antitrust law). And Wonka ignores the advice to read the fine print before signing a contract (more worthwhile legal advice for families) for a night’s stay at a local inn run by the Dickensian-ishly named Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman). It turns out he signed away his services for her laundry, along with an orphan child named Noodle (Calah Lane) and several other colorful characters. He is a prisoner and it looks like he will be stuck for decades.

But Wonka is nothing if not optimistic and enterprising. He has a solution to the problem of the endless piles of laundry that gives him a chance to escape for until Mrs. Scrubbit’s daily check. Noodle becomes his sidekick as he continues to try to create and sell chocolates.

The Wonka in the original book and movie is not a nice person. Children enjoy his wicked streak, taking pleasure in the outrageous consequences for the young visitor who ignore his warnings. And even those who still love the movie are generally in agreement that what happens to Mike, Veruca, and Augustus is pretty drastic. In this film, a character does suffer consequences of his gluttony to an extent that feels like too much for the world they have created. This Wonka is not just younger but sweeter than the one we know. He takes a stand against stealing and faces some consequences for a thoughtless taking of some (but not all) of the candy ingredients he collects.

Chalamet is just right in the role, and he has great chemistry with Hugh Grant(!) as the Oompa-Loompa (with what is probably the only funny joke about economy plus travel in history). Like Paddington, Wonka brings out the best in the people around him, and in the delighted audience, too.

Parents should know that this film has a sad offscreen death of a parent, a child and adults held captive, fantasy-style violence (Wonka’s face pushed into water, bonked on the head), and some mild language.

Family discussion: What makes Willy Wonka good at solving problems? What is your favorite kind of chocolate and what Wonka treat do you wish you could try?

If you like this, try: The Roald Dahl books and the Gene Wilder movie

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