Every good thing in this world started with a dream.
It’s a quote that could have easily come from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, straight from the mouth of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka himself. This, however, is from the upcoming WONKA, a film that’s setting itself up as both prequel and successor to the timeless classic on December 15th. Though the movie is based on the character from the Roald Dahl novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this story of how Willy Wonka came to be the mysterious and powerful chocolate baron we meet in the novel unabashedly uses visual cues, music, and language to create that link to the 1971 classic rather than the more recent 2005 movie starring Johnny Depp as the candy legend in question.
As a fan of the Wilder movie, I was thrilled by the immediate link created in the opening moments of the newest trailer that dropped today, featuring the ambitious and high minded Lofty (Hugh Grant), an Oompa Loompa with razor sharp wit, being captured by a trap laid by the clever and as yet unknown Willy Wonka (Timothee Chalamet). Bright orange skin, green hair, and white eyebrows pulled me immediately into a very specific place within my mind: one full of wonderment, magic, and just a hint of darkness to offset the dazzling light of Willy Wonka’s world.
The movie, co-written and directed by Paul King (Paddington films), sets up the early days of Willy Wonka, struggling to make a name for himself in the elite world of candymaking. Buoyed by the wisdom of his mother (Sally Hawkins) quoted at the top of this story, and with the aid of Lofty and a little girl named Noodle (Calah Lane), Wonka takes his dream and fights to rise above his humble beginnings. Thwarted by an apparent chocolatier mafia, who cater exclusively to the wealthy and elite, Wonka utilizes a combination of intelligence, creativity, and magic to rise from penniless dreamer into confectionary legend.
One might find it a daunting task to live up to the legacy of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but along with an incredible use of visuals, music, and humor, the cast of this movie is both creatively suited to and powerful enough to garner WONKA the attention it deserves. Featuring Matt Lucas, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Grant (as an Oompa Loompa nicknamed “Lofty”), as well as Oscar winner Olivia Colman and Emmy and Peabody award winner Keegan-Michael Key, the performances glimpsed in this trailer make it clear that the combination of gravitas and absurdity wielded by these performers will do justice to the spirit of the original movie.
Unlike the Depp vehicle, which was less a Roald Dahl interpretation and more a Tim Burton movie than anything else, with a heavy focus on whimsy over heart, WONKA favors the Wilder version with its more traditional fantasy imagery and sense of fun in its humor. Whether its the deadpan delivery of Keegan-Michael Key’s chocolatier mafia thug or the outlandish bedtime routine of dignified little Lofty, there is a more genuine emotional appeal to the aspects of the movie this trailer shows us than the rigidly aesthetic Burton film–an emotional appeal that could make WONKA an instant classic if the promise in this trailer can be kept by the movie as a whole.
It’s my hope that it will, but until December 15th? All we can do is precisely that: hope…and maybe improve our odds in the spirit of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka.
Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three.
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.