Four months ago, we knew that Warner Bros was bound and determined to make a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory prequel. It was unclear what audience was asking for this, but it was going to happen. They had a script, director, release date, and title. Wonka just needed a star. Collider had heard the studio was considering both Timothée Chalamet and Tom Holland for the role. Both would have made strong choices as young versions of the Gene Wilder character. At one point, negotiations between Chalamet and the studio had fallen through. He was seemingly out of the running for the role. Those struggles are now behind them as The Hollywood Reporter brings news that Chalamet has been cast for Wonka.
Unlike 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where Johnny Depp played the title role, Wonka won’t be a remake of the Gene Wilder original. Instead, Timothée Chalamet will be playing a younger version of the character. The movie will be an origin story. The script has already been written by Simon Rich, but the studio hasn’t shared the plot details. The previous films and the novel they’re based on don’t tell us much about Willy Wonka’s origins before he owned the chocolate factory. The Johnny Depp remake briefly mentions that Wonka’s father was a dentist in that movie, but there’s no telling if that will be embraced as canon for the new prequel.
What else have we learned about the Gene Wilder prequel? Wonka is going to be a musical. Timothée Chalamet did a little dancing in a key scene for Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. He sang a little in A Rainy Day in New York and has done some theater productions where he sang as well. Audiences are about to become more familiar with Chalamet when Dune finally releases, but it’s doubtful he sings much in that film.
One element that will likely be covered in the Gene Wilder prequel is how the Oompa-Loompas came to be in the chocolate factory. This is a slightly controversial subject to cover actually, but definitely, one that would be strange to avoid in a musical taking place in the factory. The Oompa-Loompas were introduced in the original novel in the 1960s as Black people from the “the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had been before”. The narrative suggested that Wonka “saved” them by bringing them to his factory to work making candy. Today, we have an easier time recognizing that as a racist narrative, but at the time, Roald Dahl defended this story.
Despite that, due to large outcry, the book was re-released in the 1970s. This time around, the Oompa-Loompas were white hippies with golden-brown hair. They went through another evolution for the Gene Wilder movie.
It seems unlikely that a prequel for the Gene Wilder hit–especially a musical–won’t include the Oompa-Loompas. We’ll have to wait and see how the new movie decides to handle their origin alongside Willy Wonka’s.
Before Timothée Chalamet was confirmed for the role, Warner Bros had scheduled a March 17, 2023 release date. They haven’t said if that’s still the plan, but for now, it seems safe to assume we’ll be seeing the Wonka musical release in early 2023.