[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “Wonka.”]

Everyone is losing their minds, and we can be silent no longer.

A few weeks ago, we saw a press screening of the new Timothée Chalamet-starring Willy Wonka prequel movie directed by Paul King. Timmy is doing his best, but for a work that is presumably suppose to be a light confection kids of all ages can enjoy we have…notes. There are so many straight up bizarre choices made over the course of its 116-minute running time. Phoning it in and cashing the checks this is not, but that doesn’t quite clarify some of the odder inclusions and subplots of this particular prequel.

What if, right now, we told you the perils of illiteracy are a recurring theme in the origin story of the famed chocolatier? What if we swore on all things sweet that you will learn absolutely nothing about the potentially magical elements of this fairy tale? And, pardon us, but are you eager to see an entire subplot about Olivia Colman’s evil baddie’s sex life? Perhaps this film really does have mass appeal! All that, plus a giraffe getting milked!

In his “B+” review for IndieWire critic David Ehrlich noted, “King’s hope for this film is the same as that which Willy infuses into his chocolates: To help people ‘see the faint ray of hope beyond the shadow of despair.’ ‘Wonka’ finds that hope by filtering those faint rays through a whimsical adventure that’s bursting with detail and delight even when some of its humor feels stale.”

We…did not see the same movie. As we stumbled out of the theater into the daylight, we were left with so many burning questions. Here are just a few:

1. OK, so is Willy Wonka magical or what?
While Willy’s skill with chocolate is peerless, his talent goes far beyond simply being a good chef. This is a man who uses moonbeams and sunshine in his recipes, who crafts treats that can literally make people fly or poop bugs out of their butts (and be OK after!). This is not just a gifted chocolatier! Something else is afoot with Willy’s work, but unfortunately, King’s film is less interested in digging deeper into his obvious magical properties and more compelled to consider his illiteracy. (Wait, what?) Read on…

2. Why does Willy’s backstory (and many of the events of this film) mostly hinge on him being illiterate?
It’s a tough thing to come up with an intriguing plot to an unnecessary sequel to a beloved family classic. We certainly couldn’t do it! But if you asked us to pick 15, nay 100, possible inciting incidents to begin our adventure, we still wouldn’t have gotten to “because he’s illiterate.” And this isn’t a one-off joke! Again and again we’re reminded: Willy Wonka cannot read. He’s spent too much time learning how to make chocolate, he had no time for anything else. It’s canon. 

3. How old is Willy?
24? 52? 13? Unclear!

4.Are we expected to wonder about Willy’s father?
No one could possibly blame King for casting his “Paddington” standby (and bonafide cinematic treasure) Sally Hawkins as Willy’s mother, who appears in flashbacks to further hammer home his deep, abiding affection for chocolate (she made it, too!). But we only ever met Willy’s mum and there’s zero information about his father on hand, which makes us wonder: Are we setting up for a daddy-centric sequel? If so: let’s not.

5. Why does this Willy only make chocolate?
Roald Dahl’s classic character isn’t just chocolate-centric, at least in other stories and the beloved “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” so why is this Willy so enamored of chocolate and only chocolate? Again, this seems like an awkward attempt to hold back classic character traits and basic information, all the better to bait a sequel.

WONKA, Timothee Chalamet, 2023. ph: Jaap Buittendijk / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Wonka”©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

6.How are we meant to interpret the relationship between Willy and Noodle?
Welcome to a recurring intrusive thought. What sort of relationship are we suppose to assume Willy and Noodle have with one other? Friends, who teach each other how to read? Is Willy significantly older than Noodle, so it’s more like a big brother or father situation for our poor abandoned orphan girl?At one point, when they are sneaking around together after hours by themselves we were briefly concerned we were building toward a romantic kiss. Is this just charming Timothée Chalamet’s chemistry with everyone? Perhaps. 

7. Why are the film’s songs so lackluster?
If you’re going to do something at unnecessary as “IP Prequel Grab” it’s got to have things going for it. And indeed, Chalamet is giving it his all as a young Mr. Wonka. It’s too bad, then, that the songs are such stinkers. He’s a talented performer given disturbingly little to work withNonsense lyrics and tunes we couldn’t remember mere moments later: “Mary Poppins” or “My Fair Lady” this is not.

8. Who decided a subplot about Keegan Michael-Key’s Chief of Police getting progressively more overweight throughout the film was smart?
This seems like a weird idea for a film about the glory of sweets, yes?

9. Why does the film wildly shift between tones?
Speaking of odd comedy choices, this family holiday thrill ride is all over the place, tone-wise. Is it a deeply goofy movie about chocolate with Hugh Grant as a silly Oompa-Loompa? Yes. Is it a film where Keegan Michael-Key’s police officer gets “comically” overweight over the course of the film? …Yes.

Is it also a film where Olivia Colman traps illiterate young people in her basement and makes them work for years on end while trying to find herself a rich boyfriend? Suer! Is it a tearjerker drama about a little orphan girl desperately searching for her family? You bet! Happy holidays!

10. Why are we expected to be invested in Olivia Colman’s Mrs. Scrubbit’s sex life?
You gotta give the adults something.

11.Where are the other Oompa-Loompas?
Much as been made of Hugh Grant’s appearance as some sort of ur-Oompa-Loompa, a revenge-driven, cacao-mad nut bar bent on getting some serious vengeance on Mr. Willy Wonka himself. Honestly, no notes, but we do have to wonder: at what point do the other Oompa-Loompas arrive on the scene? Again, again, another seeming set-up for a sequel that could have very easily, and very pleasingly, fit into this feature.

A Warner Bros. release, “Wonka” is now in theaters.

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