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The new 'Wonka' film manages to not be too sweet


And now, from the makers of "Paddington..."


TIMOTHEE CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka, singing) Come with me...

SHAPIRO: ...And following in the footsteps of Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp...


CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka, singing) ...And you'll be...

SHAPIRO: ...Timothee Chalamet becomes a chocolatier.


CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka, singing) ...In a world of pure imagination.

SHAPIRO: It's "Wonka," a candy-colored prequel to "Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory." Critic Bob Mondello says the filmmakers followed a time-honored recipe to cook up a family film that's sweet but not too sweet.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Willy's hardly an innocent when we meet him.


CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) I spent the past seven years traveling the world, perfecting my craft.

MONDELLO: He wants to start a chocolate shop...


CHALAMET: (As Wonka) You see, I'm something of a magician, inventor and chocolate-maker. So quiet up and listen down. Nope - scratch that. Reverse it.

MONDELLO: ...But he doesn't know business.


JIM CARTER: (As Abacus Crunch) Many people have come here to sell chocolates. They've all been crushed by the chocolate cartel.

MONDELLO: The chocolate cartel - got to love a kid flick that offers lessons in monopoly capitalism - ones that require some quick thinking.


CALAH LANE: (As Noodle) What are we going to do, Willy?

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) Huh.

CALAH: (As Noodle) Huh?

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) Huh.

CALAH: (As Noodle) A double huh.

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) Do you have a pencil and paper?

CALAH: (As Noodle) Uh-huh.

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) I got an idea.

MONDELLO: They need ideas. The town's chocolate overlords aren't subtle about stifling Willy's dream. Their cartel denies him a shop, calls in the law and taste-tests one of his fancier creations, made with caramel salted with the tears of a Russian clown, and then announces that, of all the chocolates they've ever tasted...


PATERSON JOSEPH: (As Arthur Slugworth) This is, without doubt, the absolute, 100% worst.

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) Whoo (ph). There we have it, ladies and gentlemen - an endorsement from Mr. - wait, the worst?

JOSEPH: (As Arthur Slugworth) We three are the fiercest of rivals, and yet we agree on one thing. A good chocolate should be simple, plain, uncomplicated.

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) You're going to hate what happens next.

MONDELLO: What happens next is they start to float.


JOSEPH: (As Arthur Slugworth) You're off your rocker, Wonka. Who in their right mind wants a chocolate that makes you fly?

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) Let's find out, shall we? Who's for a hoverchoc (ph)?

MONDELLO: Pretty much everyone, it turns out, and the film finds lots of other reasons to levitate - helium balloons for Willy and his pal, Noodle; dance numbers that soar; songs with bounce...


CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka, singing) Put your hand into your pockelet (ph), get yourself some Wonka chocolate...

MONDELLO: Chalamet, who is skinny enough that he pretty clearly doesn't get high on his own supply, as it were, has a pleasant voice, and "Paddington" creators Paul King and Simon Farnaby know how to showcase his charm without making it cloying. Also helpful in cutting the sugar content is Hugh Grant - digitally diminished to about 1 foot tall, but commanding nonetheless.


HUGH GRANT: (As Lofty) Good evening.

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) So you're the funny little man who's been following me.

GRANT: (As Lofty) Funny little man? - how dare you? I will have you know that I am a perfectly respectable size for an Oompa Loompa.

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) An Oompa what now?

GRANT: (As Lofty) Allow me to refresh your memory in the form of a song so ruinously catchy that it may never leave your mind.

CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka) Oh, I don't think I want to hear that.

GRANT: (As Lofty) Too late. I've started dancing now. Once we've started, we can't stop it, see?

(As Lofty, singing) Oompa loompa, doompety doo (ph)...

MONDELLO: This song's recycled from a 1971 original that was true to Roald Dahl but unlike most kid flicks of that era in that its title character, played by Gene Wilder, was at once adorably quirky and menacing. Here, the menace is safely offloaded to the sort of secondary figures you'd find in "Oliver..."


OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Mrs. Scrubitt) Bleacher.

MONDELLO: ...Or "Annie"...


COLMAN: (As Mrs. Scrubitt) Toilet's blocked again.

MONDELLO: ...Olivia Colman, say, playing a Miss Hannigan-ish landlady or Keegan-Michael Key as a chocoholic police chief...


KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: (As Chief of Police) No daydreaming.

MONDELLO: ...Freeing Chalamet to be a kinder, gentler Wonka and a persuasive champion for that blissed-out world he keeps going on about.


CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka, singing) Come with me, and you'll be in a world of pure imagination...

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello.


CHALAMET: (As Willy Wonka, singing) Take a look, and you'll see... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.

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