Wonka First Reviews: A Holiday Classic in the Making

Critics say Paul King's musical prequel is silly and fun for the whole family with catchy music and stunning production design, even if it loses some of the edge found in its predecessors.

by | December 4, 2023 | Comments


What can bring joy to theaters at the end of this year? The Wonka movie can! The first reviews are out for the Willy Wonka prequel musical, and many critics are raving about its charms. Timothée Chalamet stars in the titular role, and he’s receiving praise for both his portrayal and his singing. A lot of critics who love the movie note that this shouldn’t be surprising since Wonka is by the same director, Paul King, as the Paddington movies. Still, there are enough negative reviews that claim Wonka is not going to be everyone’s cup of chocolate.

Here’s what critics are saying about Wonka:

How delightful is the Willy Wonka prequel?

Wonka is wonderful… an absolute delight, sure to entertain the whole family — even the curmudgeons snarking at its existence.” – Kristy Puchko, Mashable

“With whimsy aplenty and more than its fare share of silly antics, Wonka is genuinely one of the best Dahl adaptation of all time.” – Linda Marric, Screenwords

“This might be one of my favorite films of the year.” – Catalina Combs, Black Girl Nerds

Wonka makes you feel good, but it never makes you levitate.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

How does this portrayal of Wonka compare to previous adaptations?

“His chocolate passion is there (he’s all but defined by it), but the kinks are gone; so is any trace of a dark side.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“Willy feels neutered here, stripped of any edge that might have made him interesting.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Timothée Chalamet in Wonka (2023)

(Photo by ©Warner Bros.)

How does it compare to Paul King’s Paddington movies?

“Like Paddington, Wonka defies expectations. The movie is absolutely charming and, dare I say, extremely Paddington-core. King has infused that same sort of warm, intelligent energy.” – Esther Zuckerman, Vox

“Not even the first Paddington had quite this much Paddington 2 energy… [It] often plays like a feature-length version of the ‘Rain on the Roof’ number from Paddington 2.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“You might find the qualities that distinguished his previous hits get steamrolled here by strained whimsy, an aggressive charm that wears you down rather than lifts you up.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Will fans of musicals like it?

“Every single song is incredible. They are catchy, memorable, and emotional. The musical numbers that accompany them will have viewers tapping their toes, or wiping away tears.” – Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

“This is a full-blown musical, with charming if not always memorable original songs by Neil Hannon, and big production numbers.” – Esther Zuckerman, Vox

“These numbers will have you singing along in no time… ‘Sweet Tooth’ is devilishly catchy.” – Kristy Puchko, Mashable

“Nothing is terribly earwormy, but the music is nimble and quaintly melodic.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Wonka may be the squarest big-scale Hollywood musical in decades…so square it makes Mary Poppins Returns look edgy.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Timothée Chalamet in Wonka (2023)

(Photo by ©Warner Bros.)

Is Timothée Chalamet a good singer?

“King’s claim that his star has a voice like Bing Crosby’s is a stretch, but while Chalamet’s vocals are on the thin side, they’re tuneful enough.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“Chief among [its] shortcomings would have to be Chalamet’s singing voice, a reedy instrument that sounds as magically enhanced as any of Willy’s confections, but makes up in high school theater-like enthusiasm what it lacks in Broadway-level tone.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

How is his performance overall?

“Timothée Chalamet is a great Wonka… able to bring the charm, the scatterbrained nonsense, and the humor that all Wonkas need.” – Catalina Combs, Black Girl Nerds

“Chalamet deserves all the awards for this one as he proves just how talented he already is at such a young age.” – Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

“There are moments in his performance that feel labored and inauthentic (most of them made worse by the groan-worthy patter of a part defined by its eccentricities), but Chalamet owns the uncoolness that comes with playing a kid-friendly version of a historically demented character.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“Chalamet shows us his theater kid side, giving himself over to an earnestness that may cause some to cringe. But from the movie’s opening moments, where Wonka comes into view with a song on his lips, he is positively lovely, like he’s got some bottled sunshine of his own.” – Kristy Puchko, Mashable

Calah Lane and Timothée Chalamet in Wonka (2023)

(Photo by ©Warner Bros.)

Are there any other standout performances?

“Young newcomer Lane gives arguably the movie’s most appealing performance, in part because she’s virtually the only one who doesn’t spend the entire time strenuously mugging.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“The best of a very strong batch of supporting players is Tom Davis… like a Wallace and Gromit character come to life.” – Kristy Puchko, Mashable

How is the script?

“The plotline is outrageous… but the narrative’s audaciousness is a feature, not a glitch.” – Kristy Puchko, Mashable

“Messily plotted.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

How does the movie look?

“The colors are vibrant and alluring, with a stunning production design that isn’t afraid to build out a slightly silly world… While the visual effects are a bit wobbly, the absurd vision and design fit the rest of the film’s mood in all the right ways.” – Daniel Howat, Next Best Picture

“Production designer Mark Everson and the effects team have come up with a bunch of inventive Rube Goldbergian contraptions that spring from Wonka’s ingenious mind… Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography is suitably lively.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Timothée Chalamet and Hugh Grant in Wonka (2023)

(Photo by ©Warner Bros.)

Should we take the kids?

“It’s so hard to entertain kids these days, but Wonka does its best to be the family film of the year. In my opinion, it succeeds.” – Catalina Combs, Black Girl Nerds

Wonka is a film decidedly aimed at children that nonetheless incorporates some dark matter.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Could this be a new holiday classic?

“Feels like a holiday classic in the making because the Scrooginess baked into its plot isn’t just lip service or something for its characters to overcome.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“It’s a worthy bit of holiday entertainment, the kind of movie that hits just right in these winter months.” – Esther Zuckerman, Vox

“It’s a wondrous and weird gem sure to be treasured for generations to come.” – Kristy Puchko, Mashable

82% Wonka (2023) opens in theaters on December 8, 2023.

Thumbnail image by ©Warner Bros. Pictures

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