One of my biggest worries going into “Wonka” was that this was a musical hiding any traces of its original songs in the marketing. What a relief, then, to watch the film’s opening number and have those worries melt away. Timothée Chalamet can actually sing, Neil Hannon’s songwriting cleverly establishes character while carrying the story forward, and the staging and choreography are pure classic Hollywood musical bliss. The seven new songs might not be as beautiful as “Pure Imagination” or as infectiously catchy as “Oompa Loompa” (both of which return in this movie), but they make for great set-pieces and fizzy fun, and days after my screening, I’m randomly finding myself humming “You Have Never Had Chocolate Like This.”
“Wonka” immediately establishes a tone of earnest silliness and silly earnestness. The setting is out of time and out of recognizable reality, relishing cartoony absurdity and accented with magic, but it establishes its own internally consistent logic well enough that you’re willing to buy into it. Chalamet’s Wonka begins the movie incredibly naive and uneducated in every subject except chocolate-making, so he immediately falls into comical misfortune, but he cares about following his dreams — and the movie will make you care about him too. There’s a magic steampunk flipbook flashback about how he got into the chocolate business because he loves his mom (Sally Hawkins)! You WILL feel the whimsy, and even if you want to roll your eyes when it comes to its obvious and arguably canon-contradicting morals about the power of friendship, you might get emotionally swept along with it anyway.