How Much Chocolate Are My Kids Going To Want After Seeing Wonka?
— Warner Bros
It’s surprisingly hard to find a truly family-friendly movie these days. Just because the trailer is targeting your kids, the format is cartoonish, or the story’s “written for children” doesn’t mean you aren’t going to expose your kid to something that is unnecessarily jarring to their innocence. This year alone you’ll find The Little Mermaid (dark and violent), Trolls Band Together (so many references to sex!), Barbie (simply not for children despite the toy tie-in), Haunted Mansion (a horror movie based on a Disney ride), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (one hour and 40 minutes of ‘90s nostalgia). So many parents, this one included, end up leaving the theater with confused, scared, or just unsatisfied kids wondering, Did I make a mistake?
This is not to say any of the above movies are inaccessible to kids. Plenty will really dig the latest Trolls movie despite the lines they don’t get; The Little Mermaid is a gorgeous film with music that deserves to be played on vinyl; the Turtles are something kids and parents can and will bond over, even if for different reasons. Still, it would be nice to be more fully warned these days as to what kind of movie these so-called family-friendly films really are.
This brings us to Wonka, the Timothée Chalamet-led prequel to Charlie & The Chocolate Factory directed by Paul King, of Paddington fame. I’ll cut to the chase: Parents, buy your tickets now. This is a feel-good family movie that really does feel good. The main reason is the format. Wonka is a musical, with the plot — an unsurprising but no less heartfelt backstory about the rise of a young magical chocolatier — working mostly as a bridge from song to song. Your kid, from, oh, 5 on up, is going to dig this movie because it is a choreographed production about the innocence of children and their dreams. The movie’s sets wow, the actors entertain, and the songs pluck the heartstrings.
That said, this is still a film based on a Roald Dahl book (books! Who can forget the all too weird Charlie & The Great Glass Elevator) so there are some caveats. Roald Dahl after all is known for making great kids stories that are not all that appropriate for kids. Everywhere in Dahl’s fiction, adults are evil, cynical, violent agents who have little control over any aspects of their lives — and often take that out on children.
Is Wonka too scary for little kids?
So there are some scares to be had by adults of ill intent. Slugworth, the chocolatier played by Paterson Joseph is straight-up horrifying. There’s a scene where he shoots a gun into the air and points it at two kids and my six-year-old son loudly and on the verge of tears yells, “I’m scared!” He crawled into my lap and made it through the next three or so scary minutes with a cuddle and one eye open. This is somewhat to be expected. Paul King has a knack for making extraordinarily well-wrought villains in family-friendly movies and my son was equally horrified by Millicent Clyde, the villain in Paddington played spectacularly by Nicole Kidman. But the villains, and most characters in Wonka, end up being rendered harmless. They lose their bite completely in the moment and in memory when the musical numbers appear.
Is Wonka a good musical?
The musical format probably skirts most of the adult aspects that have made their way into kids’ films today. The characters can have depth without going too, well, deep into the more grown-up aspects of life. Wonka, played with great restraint by Chalamet, doesn’t need to bring us into his traumatic childhood (his mom dies, though off-screen and in a flashback) for us to recognize his motivation. We don’t need our single Oompa Loompa, played to perfection by Hugh Grant, for comic relief. We don’t even need the young dreamer, Calah Lane playing “Noodle,” a Charlie-like figure who has been dealt a bad hand in life, to explain her plight. We just need a simple plot and great songs.
I will give out one other warning for this movie. Unlike Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, or pretty much any food-focused movie I’ve ever seen, Wonka can work up an appetite. For chocolate, specifically. God, do they ever make the confectionaries and rivers of chocolate look appetizing. Fortunately for me, my kids and I had chocolate bars in hand. They were devoured in short order. So come prepared, parents. And then, enjoy a truly family-friendly spectacle.