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Could you really miss Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa? Our infamous romantic-comedy curmudgeon with orange skin and a mop of green curls? Who could miss that? I couldn’t. Besides, Roald Dahl’s beloved story beckons our child within. The Oompa song and “Pure Imagination?” We must go.

In fact, the theater was full at our little Lowell moviehouse and the audience was laughing hard. It was infectious. Etched forever in our memories is that hefty crook in shorter-than-short lederhosen.

But this new prequel isn’t only hearty laughs. It brings with it social justice concerns, too. “The greedy beat the needy every time” becomes a theme. See that corporate greed and its traveling companion, oppression of poverty-stricken workers? We may recall that in author Dahl’s original novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there existed corporate espionage. The factory was closing because of it.

Young Wonka arrives in town dressed in old clothes and with high hopes. He is already a chocolatier equipped with magic and he longs to make his chocolate. But three big corporate bosses – the chocolate makers – aren’t happy and they will do anything to rid their town of this newcomer, including bribing policemen. A beautiful subplot involves Wonka’s deceased mother and we learn how much she is part of his drive to succeed.

Twenty-eight-year-old Timothée Chalamet delivers a performance Gene Wilder, who played Wonka in the original film, might approve. We’ve seen much of this award-winning actor in such roles as Little Women (2019) and Dune (2021). Brassy sidekick Noodle is played by newcomer Calah Lane who garnered a 2023 Critics’ Choice Award nomination. Other familiar faces belong to Sally Hawkins, Olivia Colman and Rowan Atkinson.

British director and writer Paul King is known for the big screen’s Paddington (2014) and its 2017 sequel and smaller screen projects like The Mighty Boosh. Grant as Oompa may sell a ticket, but Roger Ebert reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz asserts that Grant in this role also bypasses complaints against the Oompas being “imperialistic caricatures of nonwhite people.” This charge followed older productions of Dahl’s novel. He also authored other well-loved children’s books such as Matilda and James and the Giant Peach.

The tone in Wonka matches the quirkiness of the older movie. The music stirs nostalgia and general fun, and its moral universe of justice for the oppressed fits well within a Christian worldview. (Warner Bros. Pictures, in theaters now)

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