Wonka Director Breaks Down Exactly How The Film Channels Gene Wilder’s Original

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Written By Maya Cantina

Warning: some light SPOILERS for Wonka are in play. If you haven’t experienced the delights this film has to offer just yet, you’ve been warned. 

The world of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is something that we’ve now seen cinema tackle in two very different contexts. With Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the man tried to offer us a vision closer to that of the text from Roald Dahl, and with a more modern flair. 

Meanwhile, director/co-writer Paul King’s 2023 movie release Wonka shows a window into Willy’s past, while also channeling the Gene Wilder original in some beautiful ways. During his chat with THR, the previous Paddington franchise helmer broke down how he wanted to make a picture that fit into the legacy of director Mel Stuart’s classic. 

And of course, it all came down to references, winks and nods to the journey cinema fans have been taking since it first left in the 1970s. More specifically, here’s what Paul King had to say about how his film calls back to its landmark predecessor: 

It wasn’t so much about recontextualizing the [1971] movie, but I certainly wanted this to sit alongside that. So there’s loads of little gestures that we use. Willy says, ‘Scratch that, reverse it,’ which is a line that Gene Wilder has in the movie and I don’t think it exists in the book. And a lot of the movements … Because it’s such a visual performance that Gene Wilder gives with the cane and suddenly hitting a banister when he’s walking down the steps at the beginning of ‘Pure Imagination,’ we use all of that and lean into it. They’re just little senses of, ‘Oh yeah, don’t forget that he’s going to become that character.’ So there’s probably a bunch of them.

As I had mentioned in my Wonka review for CinemaBlend, the line that the film walks between invoking Gene Wilder’s Wonka through that of Timothée Chalamet is quite fine. So seeing things like the Hover Chocs felt like a precursor to those Fizzy Lifting Drinks that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory shows off. Not to mention, even from the first Wonka trailer, the reference to Willy’s propensity to mix his metaphors was another warmly welcomed trait that brought back fond memories. 

Then there’s the big one, a chocolate so nice, they use it twice in this month’s musical box office hit: “The Big Night Out.” We get to see it given to two very “lucky” recipients, one of them being Basil, a zoo security guard played by Wonka co-writer Simon Farnaby. I won’t dive too much into how that particular candy works, as Paul King describes it rather nicely in this further remark, which ties even more of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s DNA into the fold: 

The Big Night Out Chocolate is a little bit like the three-course meal in a stick of chewing gum [that Violet Beauregarde consumes in the ‘71 film]. We were interested in the idea that a chocolate could be a night on the town with 12 different drinks.

Just as Violet (Denise Nickerson) chewed her way through a whole three course dinner, anyone who eats this gets to sample 12 strong cocktails before passing out. Naturally, that connection between Willy Wonka and its prequel is pretty solid on its own. However, the kicker is that while going over all of the details in this very story, it makes even more sense for Paul King and Simon Farnaby to tie “The Big Night Out” to that very Willy Wonka scene.

Whether it was intentional or not, it all feels like a reference to a fun moment of dialogue between Willy (Gene Wilder) and Mr. Salt (Roy Kinnear). Watch this moment from the same scene where Violet turns violet, and you’ll see what I mean:

Though everything we know about Wonka had already hinted that the reverence for 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was strong, looking deeper into the text only proves that respect’s presence all the further. And that’s just with the references we’ve discussed here, as Paul King was correct in noting that there are tons to be found for eagle-eyed and sharp-eared fans. 

If you’re ready to either dig in for the first time, or you’re looking to help yourself to seconds, Wonka should be currently showing at a theater near you! And for those that want to run a comparison to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, that original classic is currently streaming for those who have a Max subscription! Just remember that this isn’t a remake of Willy Wonka, but a prequel extraordinaire to lead into that story’s events. 

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