Wonka review: "Paul King brings his Paddington touch to Roald Dahl"

Timothée Chalamet in Wonka
(Image: © Warner Bros.)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

King brings his Padding-touch to Dahl, lacing a melodious pick-you-up with heart. It gets busy, but the cast, songs and spirit soar.

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Never underestimate Paul King. After the no-budget ingenuity of debut feature Bunny and the Bull (2009), the former Mighty Boosh collaborator disarmed advance doubters – they did exist – with his Paddingtons, classics both. Wonka isn’t as perfect but it’s close, largely due to one reason: even operating in the Roald Dahl-iverse with a big budget and a starry lead, this flawed but fulsomely crowd-pleasing musical fantasy is every inch a 'Paul King confection'.

It’s tempting to suggest the film is about just that: a singular creator holding his identity close. Timothée Chalamet’s Wonka is a young man with a crazy dream (and a magic hat), hungry to share his bespoke chocolate creations with the world’s candy capital. On arrival by ship, this guileless fantasist clashes with chocolate cartel boss Slugworth (Paterson Joseph) and winds up reduced to forced labour. Yet as Wonka befriends fellow outcasts, including orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), he clings to his vision.  

Establishing clear dichotomies – greedy v needy, corporate v personal – King and secret-weapon co-writer Simon Farnaby stir sly social subtexts into the fantastical via a Dickens-meets-Poppins set-up. King’s flair for transposing peak British TV comedy’s character to film is also apparent, thanks to a fine support haul of Peep Show and Ghosts alumni. 

Chalamet, meanwhile, resists Wilder/Depp mimicry, whisking up his own gentle Wonka from a measured mix of naivety and knowing wiles. Some will complain he’s too benign, too warm, but he summons a musical-ready lightness and bonds generously with the winning Lane. And after Paddington 2, Hugh Grant gamely steals chocs and the show as a grumpy Oompa Loompa.  

The vibrant stylings are equally on-point, accommodating hints of playful whimsy (mixed film stocks, 2D animation) and Wizarding World-ish world-building to maintain a sense of handmade personality. Near-surreal flushes add flavor, ranging from chocoholic monks to a tingly set piece involving Wonka, Noodle, a giraffe, and a song. The tunes are buoyant and infectious, with composer Joby Talbot and songwriter Neil 'Divine Comedy' Hannon – clearly in his element – elevating story beats into expressive musical extravagances. 

True, Wonka threatens to OD on its own supply of Brit stars near the climax. Momentum dips as King strains to juggle cast members. A gag at the expense of a policeman's weight stumbles, too, though King hits surer footing with his lead duo. As Wonka and Noodle take flight, companionship and compassion emerge as Paddington-esque themes, mixed with loving care. If your cold December could use some of that anti-cynical uplift, you’ll be eating out of King’s hand.

Wonka is in UK cinemas on December 8 and in US cinemas on December 15. For more upcoming movies, check out our breakdown of all the movie release dates we know about.

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Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.