Why is Warner Bros making the prequel?

LYME REGIS, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: Timothée Chalamet is seen as Willy Wonka during filming for Warner Bros and Roald Dahl Story Company's upcoming film 'Wonka' on October 12, 2021 in Lyme Regis, England.  This film will focus on young Willy Wonka on his first adventure and how he met the Oompa-Loompas.  (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

Timothée Chalamet plays Willy Wonka during the filming of Wonka on October 12, 2021. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

Warner Bros. is in the golden ticket business. On the heels of their new take on Roald Dahl’s classic The Witches in 2020, the studio has given the formal green light to its long-gestating Willy Wonka project. Directed by Paddington director Paul King and titled Wonka, the film will explore the early years of the eccentric chocolatier, before he became Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp, whichever you prefer.

As for the cast, only three actors have been confirmed with notable roles. Fresh off Dune, Timothée Chalamet is ready to don Willy Wonka’s famous top hat and tails as a younger version of the famed chocolatier, with Peep Show star Paterson Joseph playing rival chocolate maker Arthur Slugworth. Chalamet also let it slip during 2023 CinemaCon in Las Vegas that Hugh Grant will play an Oompa-Loompa.

Meanwhile, it may be unclear who or what the remaining cast is playing, but Wonka certainly has an all-star lineup of talent in his ranks. Sally Hawkins, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Colman, Rowan Atkinson and Matt Lucas are all set to appear, with other undisclosed roles completed by Jim Carter, Tom Davis, Rich Fulcher and Ellie White.

To know more: Everything we know about Wonka

Ask the internet, though, and the bigger talking point is whether this movie should get made. The 1971 adaptation Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, starring Wilder, is now regarded as an all-time family classic, and the Depp-led 2005 remake has been largely sidelined since its release, despite early positive reviews and box office success.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the film 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory', 1971. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the film ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’, 1971. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The answer may be a case of rights. There’s definitely something of an arms race going on right now in terms of adaptations from Dahl and other adjacent projects. Warner acquired the intellectual property rights to Wonka from the Roald Dahl Estate way back in 2016 and have been developing the project ever since. It is common in the industry for these offers to be limited in time. It’s entirely likely that, in order to keep the rights profitable, Warner Bros. needs to make a movie sooner rather than later.

To know more: Roald Dahl hated Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Meanwhile, Netflix has Taika Waititi helming two animated series based on the world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but the streamer notably avoided mentioning Wonka in their announcement. One series will focus on the Oompa-Loompas, while the other is “based on the world and characters” of the book, rather than being a direct adaptation.

Presumably, these series will feature Wonka in some capacity, but neither has chosen to feature the fan-favorite character prominently at this early stage. The series is part of a huge deal Netflix has struck with the Dahl estate, which will see him explore various corners of the late author’s oeuvre over the next few years. They’ve already released the recent adaptation of the stage musical Matilda globally and have dozens of animated series planned as part of their deal. No other live-action projects have been announced.

The list of properties Netflix has secured the rights to is hefty and includes many of Dahl’s best-loved works, from The Twits to The BFG and George’s Marvelous Medicine. Notable for her absence is The Witches, which is also a Warner Bros. property, as demonstrated by the critical 2020 outing for Anne Hathaway as the grotesque Grand High Witch. Also absent is James and the Giant Peach, possibly due to Disney developing a live-action adaptation with director Sam Mendes attached, following his 1996 animated effort.

To know more: Warner apologizes to disability activists Witches

If indeed expiring rights are the motivation for Wonka’s new project, this would be the latest manifestation of a common Hollywood practice. Time and again, studios have made films in a time-sensitive manner to maintain their grip on potentially lucrative IPs. Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man the films were widely reported as a result of the rights being allowed to revert to Marvel – who would now inevitably use them as part of the MCU – rather than any degree of creative certainty. Given how much money Sony now makes working with Marvel on Spidey, it’s hard to disagree with their desire to keep those rights at all costs.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man (Sony Pictures)

Tom Holland as Spider-Man (Sony Pictures)

The same time-sensitive creative rush was true for both the budget-friendly 1994 Fantastic Four film and Josh Trank’s 2015 reboot. Perhaps the most striking recent example is the 2011 horror sequel Hellraiser: Revelations. Rights owners Dimension Films had been looking to crack the nut on a remake of the original film for some time but, finding they were about to lose the rights to the impending franchise, they got a ninth film in the series made in a matter of weeks. . There are only four reviews listed on Rotten Tomatoes, and they’re all very negative.

To know more: Movies delayed by legal battles

Luckily for Dahl and Wonka fans, Warner Bros. has left themselves a decent amount of time to get this project done. The studio has set a December 2023 release date, giving director King and his team plenty of time to cast the right lead and make sure the script lives up to Dahl’s timeless character. Presumably the nonsensical backstory to the 2005 film – in which Wonka’s father was a candy-hating dentist played by Christopher Lee – will be consigned to the editing room floor. As wrong as the project may look on paper, it could be something very special.

Meanwhile, Dahl’s work was recently adapted into the Sky Cinema drama To Olivia. Hugh Bonneville plays the author in the wake of her daughter’s death from measles-induced encephalitis, during the time she wrote many of her greatest works. The film was released in February 2021.

Wonka will be released on December 15, 2023.

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