Enter a world of pure imagination with Wonka this December. The upcoming film from Warner Bros. brings a new version of Roald Dahl’s beloved chocolatier to life. The film stars Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka, but a younger version than fans know from the Gene Wilder film. This Wonka doesn’t have a world-renowned chocolate factory just yet; in fact, he’s pretty much just got the clothes on his back, a chocolate-making suitcase, and a dream of something bigger.

Full disclosure: I was not excited for this film. I wasn’t sure about Chalamet’s casting, and the trailer and early previews didn’t make a good impression on me. But I’m eating my words like a Wonka bar on this one: Wonka is actually quite charming and fun, with a fresh take on the character and plenty of magic and heart.

You can’t go wrong with the ‘Paddington’ format

If you have a heart and a soul, you must love Paul King’s Paddington movies. And with Wonka, King delivers a feature with many of the same enchanting hallmarks. Visually, Wonka could take place in the Paddington Cinematic Universe. The movie’s signature brand of humor is also very similar; simple but effective gag jokes and running bits, very silly villains (in a good way), and comedy frequently grounded in earnest humanity and emotion.

King’s script and directing style also fit well with a Wonka story, embracing magical realism and whimsy. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t think we needed another Willy Wonka movie; however, now that King’s vision for the character has come to life, I’m glad Wonka exists. This film can charm just about anyone.

Wonka Brings New Magic To An Old Favorite

The challenge of adapting an iconic IP – especially one that’s been adapted before – is to make it distinct enough to tell the story in a fresh way, but keep it familiar enough that fans won’t get up in arms about straying too far from what they expect of the story and characters. This is one of the areas where Wonka really succeeds. Where 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory presents us with an older, more jaded and worn down Willy Wonka, Chalamet gives us a Wonka that’s just beginning to build his empire. 

Wonka strikes a solid balance between creating new content and making references to the much-loved Gene Wilder film. I especially liked the blending of music from the 1971 feature with the songs in this one. There may have been one or two too many musical numbers in Wonka. But overall, I thought the music was well-used to expand Wonka’s magical world and hit the right emotional story beats.

I loved that this movie dove into Wonka’s creative process for coming up with his iconic sweets. We get to see how he creates chocolates for different feelings or occasions, and how he incorporates ingredients from his world-spanning adventures to make things no one else would ever dream up. You really experience Wonka’s love for the craft and joy in creating, which adds more magic to the movie.

The cast can’t be beat

Though I was unsure about the casting at first, Chalamet makes for a lovely Wonka. He’s the right actor to play this version of the character: the idealistic and earnest ingénue, who still believes the best in humanity. Chalamet easily conveys enthusiasm and compassion in a glance, which adds a lot of heart to this Wonka. Though I think there are character moments that don’t land (Chalamet performing “Wilder-isms”), overall Chalamet does an admirable job walking the tightrope between the Wonka we already know and this new version of the character.

Calah Lane’s Noodle also provides a nice counterpart to Wonka. It’s fun to see her play the grounded skeptic to Wonka’s pie-in-the-sky antics. (Also, I’m very glad this movie made Wonka and Noodle’s friendship the central relationship of the movie, instead of trying to give him a love interest.) 

As for the extended cast, this team really comes together to make Wonka silly, magical, and heartfelt. Olivia Colman can do no wrong; her Mrs. Scrubbit proves deliciously sinister and fun to hate, reminiscent of Miss Hannigan in Annie. I couldn’t have told you before that I needed Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa, but now I don’t know how we ever did without. Paterson Joseph (Slugworth), Matt Lucas (Prodnose), and Mathew Baynton (Fickelgruber) give us a silly trio of out-of-touch entrepreneurs doing their best to gatekeep chocolate. Sally Hawkins, Keegan-Michael Key, Rowan Atkinson, Rich Fulcher, Jim Carter – everyone makes the most out of their characters and helps build out this magical world.

However, I will say that Wonka did feel a little overstuffed with characters at times. The various residents tricked into service by Mrs. Scrubbit didn’t really get enough to do to justify their place in the story. The trio of villainous chocolatiers gave us some fun banter and gags, but everything would have progressed the same with just one of them. Still, I can appreciate King’s vision for building out the world here.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the charm and magic Wonka had to offer. It’s not flawless, but it’s a perfectly good time, and much better than many (including myself) seemed to anticipate. King’s unique style blends humor and whimsy, creating an easy feel-good tale you’ll enjoy biting into over the holidays.

Wonka premieres in theaters December 15.