Wonka (Christian Movie Review)
About the Film
The world’s most famous chocolatier is back on the big screen with more fantastical sweets and plenty of songs. Wonka is a musical origin story of the shrewd businessman who will one day rest the future of his successful factory on some golden tickets randomly distributed to spoiled children. Is Wonka a successful return into Willy’s crazed imagination? Well, that might depend on how big of a sweet tooth you have.
I should note that I saw this movie with my 8-year-old twin boys, and while not the most demanding movie critics, they both loved it. So perhaps I need to sink my teeth into some Wonka chocolate and overcome my adult cynicism, because I was markedly less enthused. Wonka is not necessarily a bad film; it’s just not a very good one. It’s like a bland candy bar. Sure, it’s more exciting than a bran muffin, but it’s probably not tasty enough to justify the empty calories. There are certainly some enjoyable elements in Wonka, but the overall experience is mostly unsatisfying.
Wonka is an original story, not a remake of the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and it is worth mentioning that the two stories are quite different in tone and storytelling approach. In the original, the chocolate factory was a magical oasis amid the harsh reality of the world. Wonka takes the absurdist and fantastical elements of the factory and wraps the world into it. As a result, the movie dilutes the magic and loses some of its escapist joy, offering audiences “weird” more than “wonder.”
There is also the issue of Wonka himself. Despite some big shoes to fill, Timothée Chalamet has enough charisma and infectious positivity to carry the story. But like the sugary sweets that fill his shop, there can be too much of a good thing. The character works best in smaller doses. In the original film, Wonka is captivating as a mysterious figure. But when he is elevated to the story’s lead, he is often too quirky and unrelatable to maintain the same appeal. His attempts to convey genuine human emotions are hard to accept because he is such an eccentric character.
The film’s surprising standout character is Noodles (played by newcomer 14-year-old Calah Lane), an orphan girl who becomes Wonka’s first friend and ally. She is fantastic, acting as the “Charlie” of the film by providing audiences with a more grounded, relatable protagonist to counterbalance Willy Wonka. Through her eyes, the audience experiences the sense of wonder that the film often lacks. The movie is at its best and most compelling when it focuses on the touching relationship between these two characters. They are joined by several other sidekicks, but none are given enough to do to make an impact except for Hugh Grant, who is amusing as an Oompa Loompa, despite being used sparingly.
The musical components are fun but don’t make a lasting impression. For the most part, the songs function more as storytelling devices than as singalongs. Moments after the end credits rolled, I couldn’t recall a single song outside of the “legacy” tunes (a new rendition of the Oompa Loompa song and Wonka’s “Pure Imagination”). Even so, the musical sequences provide some fun spectacle. One scene in which Wonka and Noodles soar through the air holding a bundle of balloons evokes a sense of magic and wonder.
The overall tone has a slightly sharper bite than expected. The story about a “Chocolate Cartel,” corrupt cops, attempted murders, and abusive landlords is not inaccessible to younger viewers (again, my own kids enjoyed it), but it feels more tween than kid-oriented, and some of the humor may make parents of younger kids uncomfortable.
Wonka is unlikely to change anyone’s opinions about the need for a musical Willy Wonka origin story. I’ll admit I was about as excited about this film as I am to reschedule my two-years-overdue dentist appointment. Nevertheless, there are some entertaining moments, enjoyable spectacle, and flashes of whimsy. But outside of Noodles’s character, I struggled to feel any emotional investment in the story. Wonka is different enough to avoid feeling like a needless remake of a beloved film, but it lacks the immersive sense of wonder that made the original such an enduring classic.
Engage The Film
Greed and Generosity
The chocolate in the film is symbolic. Most overtly, chocolate represents money, with both the good and bad characters literally paying people in chocolate. The various characters’ chocolate addictions seem to represent their bondage to greed.
The Bible teaches, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). Money (like chocolate) is neutral, but the love of it drives characters toward destruction. The corrupt chief of police is initially a reluctant participant in the cartel’s schemes, but his “sweet tooth” pulls him deeper into their grasp, providing a stark visual as he dramatically gains weight throughout the course of the film.
In contrast to the chocolate cartel’s greed, gluttony, and selfishness, Wonka’s generosity allows him to bless those around him. Near the end of the film, he learns that it is not chocolate itself that truly matters but the people with whom he shares it. Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:35-37).