The internet has been ripping into Wonka since it was first announced. Cries of dismay came over the very idea of an origin story prequel to 1971’s classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which starred Gene Wilder in an iconic (and occasionally unnerving) turn as the titular chocolatier. Then came the first image of Timothée Chalamet in his top hat and velvet coat. His “Twonka” quickly earned comparisons, but not to Wilder — rather, to Gonzo in The Muppet Christmas Carol. When the trailer finally hit last summer, knives were out as tweets mocked Chalamet’s vocal inflections and declared he’d been miscast. 

Cards on the table, we defended Wonka early on because it comes from Paul King, the heralded co-writer/director of both Paddington and Paddington 2. Now, having seen Wonka, we can confirm it’s not only a joyous rebellion against cynicism but also one of the best films of 2023. But what’s it been like for King to see his movie getting torn apart online months ahead of anyone seeing it? 

In an interview with Mashable, King responded to Wonka haters with the kind of empathy you might expect from the helmer of Paddington 2. 

Paul King and Timothée Chalamet on the set of "Wonka."

Paul King and Timothée Chalamet on the set of “Wonka.”
Credit: Warner Bros.

“Obviously, you make a movie, and you hope that everyone in the world will love it,” King began. “That’s my ideal.” But he suggested he wasn’t surprised by the dubiousness of the response to Wonka online.

“It was like that on Paddington as well,” he said, lightly referencing the bountiful backlash that came from the very first teaser — way back in 2014, when Colin Firth was still attached to voice the eponymous bear and just before Ben Whishaw took over the role. (For those who don’t remember the Paddington Wars, that first image spawned a Creepy Paddington meme format that resulted in Photoshops of the grinning bear in iconic horror movie scenes from The Shining, Saw, and Psycho. It was a wild time on the web.) 

Still, King has a healthy perspective on such online reactions. “I think when you take something that belongs to the world [like Paddington or Willy Wonka], people feel rightly protective of it,” he explained. “That has meant a lot to them. I understand the reticence and anxiety about whether [a movie adaptation] is going to be an honorable companion or whether it’s going to try and reinvent what they’ve loved.” 

Speaking specifically to Wonka, King continued, “Our goal from the start was to do something that [Roald] Dahl would be proud of or would sit within his world.” To that end, the filmmaker explained how he and co-writer Simon Farnaby involved Roald’s descendants to keep true to the inspirations found in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and other works by the seminal children’s writer. “We’ve worked very closely with his grandson, Luke Kelly, who’s one of our producers,” King pointed out. “And for him, it’s not just professional anxiety but deeply personal.”

Perhaps Dahl fans side-eyeing Wonka without seeing it might appreciate another element of King’s pedigree on its creation. “This is the first story the Dahl estate has ever endorsed outside of adaptations of the books,” King noted with pride. “So, we were deeply conscious of that responsibility. And obviously, I hope when people see the movie that they respond and feel it’s been done with love.” 

Wonka opens in theaters Dec. 15. 

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