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A clever origin story starring Timothée Chalamet

The new “Wonka” works much better than its raison d’etre suggests. There is because why not? This is another origin story that the brand is familiar with; The easiest thing to do in the movie world requires everything but a new idea.

It exists because the non-musical source material has been musicalized once again, adding seven original songs to a project that adds to Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The 1971 film version of this novel, starring Gene Wilder as secretive candy magnate Willy Wonka, was likewise a musical; Two of his more enduring tunes, the song “Pure Imagination” and “Oompa Loompa”, appear in the final screen addition to Wonkalore.

So where is it going? If you enjoyed either or both “Paddington” moviesespecially second, You’ll find “Wonka” a close spiritual cousin for his wit, his jumpiness, and his general lack of aggravated charm offensives. Director Paul King and “Paddington 2” co-writer Simon Farnaby handle this little pile of intellectual property quite well. And Timothée Chalamet, as Wonka, lightens the load by taking it easy and delivering most of his lines in a manner that could be classified as a “low muttering” (to borrow a line from Cole Porter).

We meet Wonka as a young, orphaned adult working as a cook on a ship, sailing into the harbor and eager to find his fortune in designer chocolates that contain a touch of magic. The city is not London, but its geography and some of its details evoke the London of the “Paddington” movies, with bits of Paris and other European capitals.

Soon, sweet and trusting Willy runs afoul of a sinister washerwoman (Olivia Colman, cashing in on Mrs. Lovett’s apparent lost earnings at her “Sweeney Todd” audition). His boarding house is truly an enslavement camp for the unsuspecting; Since Willy cannot read, he signs at check-in without reading the contractual easement addendum. So it’s up to him, his passion for chocolate, and his fellow captives to go out and make it happen.

Much of the film focuses on the beautifully developing friendship between Willy and his orphan friend Noodle (Calah Lane). Outside the grim laundromat confines, when Willy escapes and sets up shop, his enemies multiply: a trio of candy bosses of the chocolate cartel, as well as a cop played by Keegan-Michael Key, uncomfortably trapped inside a fat latex. phobic running joke.

Neil Hannon’s songs range from practical to useful with a smile. Hugh Grant may not be as entertaining as he was in “Paddington 2,” but his dandy Oompa Loompa has his moments, too. And while “Wonka” more than packs the slate with two or three crescendo climaxes, disposable verbal jokes along the way keep the machinery humming. (At one point, Wonka explains breathlessly that his latest fantasy chocolate treat has been “salted with the bittersweet tears of a Russian clown.”)

Like most franchise remakes or expansions today, “Wonka” comes with a wry streak of self-criticism. The little orange Loompa, played by a digitally reconstructed Grant, describes its theme song as “devastatingly catchy.”

Attraction cannot be measured or made to work for everyone. Many critics find “Wonka” unappealing; A typical example of mid-to-large, $125 million production budget level corporate screen mechanics in action. There are elements of digital magic that definitely don’t involve a lot of magic. Even happier, there’s the sight of Willy’s portable bag full of chocolate-making wonders; a beautiful and eccentrically funny sight when fully opened.

Neither the script nor the actor are quite interested in capturing the hints of Wonka’s callous, misanthropic streak as imagined by Dahl and his interpretations of the previous films. The new approach won me over, as my childhood familiarity and partial affection for the clunky ’71 “Willy Wonka” only counted so much (the 2005 Tim Burton/Johnny Depp remake, even less so). Chalamet meets the musical demands with a sincere light tenor and some simple but agile dance moves. Thanks to production designer Nathan Crowley (“The Dark Knight,” “The Greatest Showman”), physical creations of the city’s exteriors and interiors look and feel like wood, brass, and realistic things. And somehow “Wonka” solves one of the movie world’s toughest design challenges: making the chocolate river look like something other than the worst day ever at Chicago’s wastewater treatment plant.

“Wonka” – 3 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: PG (for some violence, mild language and thematic elements)

Running time: 1:56

How to watch: Premieres in theaters December 14

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

excitement @phillipstribune



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