Jewish actor Timothée Chalamet shines as Willy Wonka in enchanting new film

Chalamet is the perfect choice for a character who has a positive attitude no matter what and learns to overcome obstacles in his way.
Timothée Chalamet in "Wonka" (Warner Bros.)

Jewish actor Timothée Chalamet, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, has the right touch of humor and panache as a young chocolatier in “Wonka,” directed by Paul King

Read more: Everything you want to know about Timothee Chalamet’s Jewish identity

Chalamet is magnetic as Willy Wonka, who can make chocolate that is not only tasty but can make you fly high in the air.

Donning a top hat, Chalamet is the perfect choice for a character who has a positive attitude no matter what and learns to overcome obstacles in his way. A chocolate cartel doesn’t scare him.

In the film, Willy’s generosity is evident as he helps those in need. However, he encounters trouble when he is tricked by Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and Bleacher (Tom Davis) who run an inn he stays at for a night. 

When he can’t pay for unexpected random charges, like using soap and sitting near the fire, he is forced to work for them.

He’s not alone and befriends one of the people in the same predicament, Noodle, played with grace by Calah Lane. She is kind and marvels at his ability and Lane’s soulful performance gives the film some of its heart.

Many may be surprised to see that Chalamet has an impressive voice, showcased in songs like “A Hatful of Dreams” and the iconic “Pure Imagination.”

His performance brings believability and charm to the film, making it suitable for audiences of all ages.

The decision to portray Willy as illiterate was unexpected and could have used more explanation. Introducing a romantic interest might have added another dimension to his character.

The film’s compelling visuals and costumes create a backdrop for a hero fighting for the rights of all good people, one chocolate at a time.

From the classic novel to the screen: Willy Wonka through the years

Jewish actor Gene Wilder starred as Willy Wonka in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” directed by Mel Stuart, in which Willy is thinking about retiring from running his chocolate factory. Wilder’s portrayal balanced sweetness with a notable fit of rage in one scene. 

Johnny Depp starred in the 2005 “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” directed by Tim Burton. Depp portrayed Wonka as eccentric using an odd high-pitched voice at times. Chalamet’s portrayal of the character offers innocence without oddity or rage.

All of the films stem from Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” telling the story of Charlie Bucket’s life-changing visit to Wonka’s factory. 

In the classic story, Bucket is poor, raised by his four grandparents with little to eat other than cabbage. But his fortune changes when he wins a golden ticket, found in a chocolate bar. 

He and four other children get to tour the chocolate factory and meet Willy Wonka, but the other children are punished due to their poor behavior.

In the 1971 film, the Oopma Loompas — orange-skinned, diminutive people who run the factory — sing after each child disappears. They mention the children’s flaws and warn parents not to raise spoiled children. 

The latest “Wonka” features only one Oompa Loompa and he is played well by Hugh Grant, who has good chemistry with Chalamet. 

The story and films underscore lessons about honesty and the importance of children being pure-hearted to prevent them from becoming selfish adults.

Chalamet was initially reluctant to take on the role

In an interview with Gamesradar+, Chalamet, 28, said he didn’t know if the film was a good idea.

“Like many people, when there are remakes, I feel very protective over the original character and version you love,” he told the outlet. “Your eyebrows go up with skepticism about (whether) this is a legitimate, worthwhile story or a cynical money grab.”

But he said that the opening song’s lyrics made him realize that the character would be ambitious and hopeful. Plus, he didn’t want to say no to Paul King who he values as a skilled director. 

King told Rolling Stone that Chalamet did not need to audition because he was the only actor he could think of for the role.

Watching “Wonka” in our current times

As a huge fan of Wilder’s 1971 classic, I never sensed a need for an origin story film about Willy Wonka. But Chalamet’s performance made me happy this film was made. 

One might think such a film is only for children — of course, chocolate can’t save the world — but the film subtly teaches that small acts of kindness can have a significant impact.

Watching in the context of the wars that are going on and our chaotic political times, the film is a welcome escape. It makes one yearn for a simpler era where people could have good values far removed from malevolence.

In this narrative, chocolate is a metaphor for thoughtfulness, a small gesture to bring joy to someone else and put a smile on their face as opposed to only thinking about oneself. 

While some might say all musicals are cheesy, Chalamet’s charm and energy in “Wonka” remind us of the fun things in life amid the relentless pressure to succeed and constant comparisons to others.

“Wonka” is a delightful film that some will see in secret, believing they are too old or too cool for such a heartwarming story. Let it be your guilty pleasure. As for Chalamet, whose repertoire includes a role in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” his career is soaring, much like his character in “Wonka.”

Subscribe to This Week Unpacked

Each week we bring you a wrap-up of all the best stories from Unpacked. Stay in the know and feel smarter about all things Jewish.