Film Review: “Wonka” is a family-friendly musical gone horribly wrong

by Gavin Meichelbock

This article contains slight spoilers for the film “Wonka” (2023).

Audiences return to the chocolate factory to explore how Willy became Wonka. The film follows Wonka, played by Timothée Chalamet, as he works to create his own chocolate shop and take down the “Chocolate Cartel” with the help of his friends. As a musical with awful music, lines poking fun at serious social issues and problems surrounding its central character, the film has so many issues.

This is a musical where all the music is awful. Every song is something out of a bad Disney Channel original movie. The lyrics are annoyingly repetitive and nonsensical. Words with too many syllables or too few syllables are crammed into the meter of the song and make it feel off. Not only do the lyrics not fit into the songs, these songs also don’t fit the scenes they are in. Songs will be about abandonment, depression or the death of childhood during scenes that should be feel-good moments of success. “Wonka” also seems to forget it’s a musical once it reaches the halfway point of the story. The musical numbers just stop until the film needle drops “Pure Imagination” in a scene it does not belong in.

On top of all of this, nobody in the movie can sing. This makes it so every song is an overproduced, auto-tuned nightmare that doesn’t sound natural when the characters are “singing.” Another aspect of the awful “singing” is how terribly synced it is. The actors don’t even look like they are trying. The lip-syncing is so obvious that the film doesn’t even try to hide it. There is a point in almost every song where an actor’s mouth will stop moving but the track will keep playing.

The poor social commentary in “Wonka” mainly comes from the villain of the film, the Chocolate Cartel. The characterization of the three cartel members is disgusting. They are stereotypical evil billionaires whose hatred of the poor is so in-your-face that one of them literally vomits when they hear the word “poor.” The thing that makes these billionaires evil is their wanting to succeed in business. Their evil plan is to maintain their monopoly on chocolate so they can continue to deliver an inferior product. The movie not only goes after big business but also tackles corporate corruption of the law and religious institutions as well. The Chocolate Cartel pays off the police chief in chocolate to take out Wonka when he interferes with their monopoly. They have also gotten the town’s church hooked on their product and uses them to defend their supply.

The police chief has an unhealthy addiction to chocolate that the Chocolate Cartel abuses to make him do their bidding. He becomes so dependent on the substance that he is willing to do more and more illegal deeds so he can keep feeding his addiction. The priests and monks of the church refer to their dependence on chocolate as a sin that they will be punished for in the afterlife. Chocolate is so obviously a metaphor for something else that this running gag is uncomfortable to watch. Corporations paying people to look the other way and drug addiction are serious real-world problems that “Wonka” plays for laughs.

Additionally, the portrayal of the main character is incredibly hard to follow. Wonka is supposed to be a weird dude, but he is consistently weird. Chalamet, on the other hand, jumps all over the map from scene to scene with the character’s behavior. He will have moments where he plays it up and goes completely insane for one scene and then is completely normal in the next. He is annoyingly quirky and childish at parts of the film and then cunning and able to pull off elaborate schemes in the next. This erratic behavior and characterization didn’t make for a nice homage to the Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp versions, nor did it provide a fun new take on the character; it just made Wonka impossible to understand.

“Wonka” also has a massive tonal issue due to it being a prequel. In this movie filled with fun musical numbers and fat jokes, Wonka is an optimistic dreamer who wants to take down big business and will do anything for his friends. So what horrible events transpire that turn Wonka into a child-endangering maniac? Wonka spends the film trying to take down the Chocolate Cartel and end their monopoly on chocolate, a monopoly he will later inherit. Another one of his goals is to free his friends who are indentured servants, but he later enslaves a whole race of people to work in his factory. The fact that Wonka will eventually become the very thing he fought to destroy, gives the film a tragic undertone that does not fit in this surface-level light-hearted family film.

“Wonka” is a tonal family-friendly mess that tackles smart commentary in a dumb way. Wait to watch it on Max in a few months; one-and-a-half out of five stars.

Featured Image via Warner Bros

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