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Wonka director Paul King says there’s hope at the heart of Willy Wonka

The Digital Fix sits down with Paul King to talk about the Wonka trailer, as well as addressing everything we want to know about the new fantasy movie.

Paul King interview: Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka

The Wonka trailer has finally arrived, giving audiences everywhere their first proper glimpse of a young Willy Wonka. The musical will take a deep dive into his origins, and how it came to pass that he would become one of the greatest candy makers in all of fictional history.

Expect the usual Wonka fare: Oompa-Loompas, delicious creations, and some song and dance too in one will be one of 2023’s last new movies on the slate and could be one of the best musicals in years. But this is Willy Wonka with a twist, and while we might know him as the maniacal factory owner who dishes out golden tickets, Wonka takes it back to the start, where Willy is a fresh-faced and bright-eyed young wannabe chocolate star.

Paul King, most known for the beloved Paddington movies, sat down with The Digital Fix to break down the trailer and answer a few of our most pressing questions about what we hope will be among the best family movies of the year. Here we talk about chocolate cartels, Easter eggs, and all things sweet in-between.

The Digital Fix: In the trailer, there’s a reference to “Strike that, reverse it” [from the 1971 version]. In the new movie, are there going to be a few Easter eggs for people to look out for?

Paul King: It’s essentially an Easter egg hunt. Which is quite right for a film about chocolate. That film meant a great deal to me growing up. And I think because that was the version at the time that I think a lot of how I read the book, or at least remembered it, was influenced by that.

It seemed like a lovely challenge to do a film that could sit within that cinematic universe, to use the parlance of our time. It’s not completely conjoined with it, but at the same time, I liked the idea that nothing that would happen in our film would mean that that film didn’t make sense. I wanted to kind of honor that story.

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The musical aspect is something you don’t see so much of in the trailer. You see a lot of spectacular dance sequences, so what can we expect of the music itself and the songs?

We’ve got a couple of songs from the original. I think I was influenced by what the 1971 movie was, which is not quite a full musical, but it’s definitely a film with songs in it. There’s lots of music in [Roald] Dahl – or, not music, but verse he writes, so it always seemed right that there would be singing in it. There’s plenty.

What we don’t have are those sorts of songs where people are singing dialogue. There’s a reason for them all being sung. It’s not like an opera or something. It’s really a movie with songs in it, which I think works really well.

When creating the performance with Timothée Chalamet, did you reference the Gene Wilder of it all? 

I think we both had watched both the films. I don’t know how often he watched the films, but I watched them a bunch of times. I know he has at least seen the performances. But because this is the character at a different time in his life and the Willy Wonka in the Charlie in the Chocolate Factory story is such a damaged, reclusive, strange, unknowable figure that even though it’s the same character, it’s such a different time in his life.

He’s coming from such a different place. He’s very wide-eyed and optimistic, and innocent. He’s really naive coming to this town and thinking that if you’re good at making chocolate, you’ll go and rub shoulders with the best and that’s the end of it. [He] rapidly discovers that it’s not a kind meritocracy at all. It’s going to be really tough. I suppose I was interested in how a person becomes that strange, reclusive character. They’re interesting touchstones, those performances, but not desperately relevant because the character is in such a different place.

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Something that the original film has become known for is when all these horrible things are happening to the children, [Willy Wonka] doesn’t really seem to care. In your version, he’s got a little sidekick called Noodle. Do we see a big transformation in him that ends on a slightly closer note to the version we’re familiar with?

I think it’s the beginning of a journey. Hopefully, a twelve-film odyssey! It’s not like we end there. It’s definitely a discovery of an aspect of cynicism about human nature, for sure. But I also feel that the Willy Wonka of Charlie [and the Chocolate Factory], there’s an optimism in him. He’s done this crazy thing and sent out these five golden tickets and hopes that from five people, he will find somebody who will inherit his chocolate factory and be a worthy heir.

I don’t think he minds Augustus Gloop going up the pipe, but I think there’s also some hope there. And the thing in that original movie that always stayed with me, and I talked about this with Simon [Farnaby] my co-writer a great deal, is that moment right at the end when he goes “You get nothing!” I mean, it’s so heartbreaking. And we both remembered very, very clearly watching that as a kid and going, “It’s the worst thing in the world”, because you love Willy Wonka. And he’s this magician, and he’s made all these incredible things.

It’s so awful. It’s like a parent turning on you. And then when he goes, “You did it!”, it’s so great. You want his love, and you feel there’s a kindness and hope and optimism at the heart of him. I was interested in how that hope and that love and that optimism could slowly get this crust of cynicism around it.

Another thing that everyone remembers from all versions of the story is the candy centric-ness of it all and seeing all the amazing things he created. You can almost taste it when you’re watching it. And in the trailer, you do get a glimpse of that when he’s giving out the sweets and everyone’s floating up. Is it going to be a movie about candy? Are we going to see loads of Wonka sweets?

Yes, there’s plenty. Well, you can’t taste it. I mean, that’s the problem. But they all tasted delicious because they were all lovingly handmade and completely edible. Everything that is eaten in the film is edible and was very, very delicious. There are lots of different magical, wonderful creations.

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The whole idea of this ‘chocolate cartel’…was that something that you wanted in there very early on?

In the book, [Dahl] mentioned these rival chocolatiers like Fickelgruber and Prodnose. But he doesn’t really go into them apart from that they’re spies and they’re clearly not very nice people. When we were writing, the idea of doing a Boggis, Bunce, and Bean-type triumvirate felt fun to me in a way that it’s sort of Willy vs. The World rather than Willy vs. one other person. It felt like a good way of doing that and the sort of thing that Dahl might have done had he tried to write a Willy Wonka prequel.

He comes to this city, and it’s the home of chocolate, it’s where all the finest chocolate makers have their shops. And he thinks you just have to be good, and you’ll get in. And it’s like, no, it’s very much a closed shop. There’s this big shopping galleria, and there’s these four prime stores. And three of them are Slugworth, Fickelgruber, and Prodnose. And the fourth has been empty for years because no one else can get a toehold. And that’s where he wants to have his shop.

For everything you need to know about the Wonka release date, check out our guide. You can also take a look at the five things we learned at the trailer event! Don’t miss our list of the best Disney movies and best animated movies for more family fun, and see our list of the best movies of all time, too.