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Timothée Chalamet’s Wonka prequel is full of ‘joy and optimism’

Seven years after British author Roald Dahl penned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964, it was made into a masterpiece, with Gene Wilder depicted as the reclusive, eccentric chocolatier.

Dahl, who died in 1990, was the film’s biggest critic, attacking several core elements of its filmmaking, right down to casting, the music and how some of the characters were portrayed.

It would be another 34 years before US actor Johnny Depp donned the top hat in 2005, and the film delivered what Screen Rant described as a “surreal, strange tone … similar to Dahl’s original story, which was meant to act as a cautionary tale for misbehaving children”.

However, he would have “likely seen Dahl dislike Tim Burton’s adaptation as much as the original movie”.

When Warner Bros. secured the Wonka rights in 2016 with new writers to make a prequel to the 1964 classic, and cast US-French teen idol Timothée Chalamet to play a young Willy Wonka, fans were sceptical.

While we’ll never know what Dahl will make of this $US125 million ($185m) Wonka origin story (scheduled for release just before Christmas), a full-length trailer released on Wednesday is a “perfect mix of Wilder and Depp”, according to Screen Rant.

It’s Wonka’s back story. And it’s pure imagination.

It’s actually called reinvention

From the director of Paddington (and the producers of Harry Potter), Paul King told Entertainment Weekly he didn’t want to reinvent the music score or even the look of the dancing, singing and mischievous Oompa Loompas.

The actors all were people of short stature, and had green skin and orange hair (in Burton’s film, Kenyan-born 135-cm actor Deep Roy played all 165 Oompa Loompas).

“I didn’t want to reinvent those things ’cause it felt like that ’71 movie had come up with these incredibly enduring, iconic looks,” King said, who co-wrote the prequel with UK actor and writer, Simon Farnaby (Paddington 2, Ghosts).

“What I wanted this movie to be was like a companion piece to that movie.

“If you imagine those people in that world 25 years earlier, that was my starting process. Eventually, [Wonka] would grow into that person and that factory.”

hugh grant

Hugh Grant (centre) gets a turn playing an Oompa Loompa, following the 1971 group and Deep Roy (R) in 2005. Photo: TND

‘Hugh is an Oompa Loompa’

As for the key Oompa Loompa character, look no further than the inimitable Four Weddings and a Funeral actor Hugh Grant.

In recent years, the 62-year-old has starred in varied roles including The Gentlemen and fantasy adventure film Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves.

He has attracted attention off camera for being a leading critic of News Corp during the phone hacking scandal, for his awkward red carpet interviews and for regular tweets on UK politics.

In Grant, King found his voice and character traits a match made in heaven.

Speaking ahead of the trailer’s premiere at London’s Rosewood Hotel this week, King tells Rolling Stone Grant is “the funniest person I know”.

“It was a very happy moment when you go, ‘Oh, I think your voice can sit with this judgmental, sarcastic, mean-spirited character’. The gleeful, mischievous delight the Oompa Loompas take in the demise of those kids is so funny.

“When you read the poems they are so cruel and kind of acerbic. Trying to write down character traits and find their voice outside the songs, I realised, ‘That’s what Hugh sounds like’.

“‘Hugh is an Oompa Loompa’,” he said.

“He wears a series of ridiculous outfits in the film … I think it works so brilliantly.

“There’s always things where when you’re making anything where you go, ‘OK, I think that’s good, I think that’s good — that’s just right! If no one likes that I don’t care‘.

“I have 100 per cent confidence in Hugh with green hair,” says King.

Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka during filming in October, 2021. Photo: Getty

Chalamet has ‘big shoes to fill’

King revealed he was attracted to Dahl’s novel as a child and it was one of the first books he “ever properly fell in love with and was reading to myself”, he says in his EW interview.

“I had this very old-fashioned copy where all the pages would come out ’cause I read it [so much].”

King did a lot of research, he says, into Dahl’s archives, and felt the author may have explored Wonka as a younger man.

“It felt like an area that Roald Dahl was always exploring … he had a try writing a few stories and a few ideas.

“None of them ever quite hit his quality-control threshold, I don’t think, but it felt like he felt there was a life to Willy Wonka beyond Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and [sequel book] The Great Glass Elevator.

When it came to casting a teen Wonka adventurer in his youth, King looked to Chalamet (Little Women, Bones and All).

“I really don’t think there are many people who could play this role at all,” he says.

“Those are mighty big shoes to fill,” he says, recalling how Chalamet was able to find “the manic and mischievous and mysterious energy you’d expect from Willy Wonka”.

“He’s such a brilliant actor at expressing really deep emotions within the context of a family movie. He’s just extraordinary as well at singing and dancing.

“He’s got the voice of an angel and the toes of … I don’t know what toes.

“I can’t wait for people to see it. I think it’s gonna blow people away.”

Wonka premieres nationally in cinemas on December 14 

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