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Wonka: Wonky Nostalgia-Bait?

Wonka came out in late December of 2023, and starred Timothee Chalamet as a young Willy Wonka. The movie acts as a prequel to the Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, depicting how the chocolate maker came to be. The story follows a group of 6 individuals, including Wonka, who are trapped in forced labor upon signing a contract with a corrupt tavern owner, and depicts how they escape the tavern, as well as how they beat the main antagonists of the movie, the 3 leaders of the chocolate cartel in the story’s main location, Galerie Gourmet.

First things first, the storyline and characters are not much to gawk at. The story itself is not very complicated, following a very fairytale-esque plot that makes it very predictable at times. Additionally, the characters don’t have any depth to them, with there not being any real flaws, with each character really filling an archetype besides Noodle and Wonka. The movie also follows its predecessors with its form as a musical, with its songs pulling a lot of the emotional weight.

While the movie is flawed in these ways, the whimsical charm that many fans remember from the 1971 movie definitely held strong, with the songs, chocolates, and environments reflecting that childhood sense of wonder people may have felt. That’s not to say it doesn’t pray entirely on nostalgia however, with the storyline’s status as a prequel allowing it to breathe, even if at times using motifs from the original. Chalamet’s performance as young Wonka adds to the aforementioned whimsy, with his light cadence and naivete contributing to that feeling of wonder.

So, why has the movie’s reception been so bad, from even as early as everyone learning that Timothee Chalamet would be acting as Willy Wonka? Is it the acting, plot, or reliance on nostalgia that makes this such a bad movie, and is it really bad to begin with?

It seems to be the general consensus, online, that instead of naturally begetting a breathing sense of wonder, Wonka feels more engineered to produce that effect. People arguing this cite the flat sets, overreliance on story tropes (Wonka’s inspiration coming from his dead mother, Noodle’s reunion with her birth mother, flatly developed themes of believing in one’s dreams, etc.), and the overproduced, sparkly effect of the movie.

People say it lacks substance, especially considering the fact that, according to one junior, “Disney has already made several Wonka movies, and overall felt very soulless…there was definitely a combination of lacking any original ideas and wanting to try to play on nostalgia by returning to Willy Wonka.”

Critics also found fault with the acting in the movie, with some of Wonka’s lines becoming memes on sites like TikTok–the trailer was found “cringey” and corny lines like “So, quiet up, and listen down. No, scratch that, reverse it!” made rounds. The junior also said that they didn’t “think Timothee Chalamet was the right fit for a character like Willy Wonka. He can act and sing, but I don’t think he can emulate Wonka’s ‘mad’ energy and was solely chosen for his fame.”

These shortcomings, at least among an audience of young people, solidified Wonka’s poor reputation far before the movie actually came out. The fact that it wasn’t advertised as a musical, either, led to confusion among people who had watched the trailer.

While public opinion of the movie was rocky from the start, and has remained pretty divided, the movie is a joy to watch. It supersedes the expectations of a “cringe” performance through music, choreography, and wholesome plot points. Even the humor of the movie does not fall short a lot of the time. The trailers made it seem like the movie was going to be a bunch of corny lines that attempted to make viewers laugh or feel endeared, but Wonka manages to make viewers feel good while watching it, defying the expectations set for it.

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