Wonka – Crafting An Origin Story From A Classic Novel & Film

“I wanted to bring to the world a Wonka back when he was young and wide-eyed and full of hope and optimism,” says writer-director Paul King of Wonka, the wondrous story of how a young chocolate-maker, armed with nothing but a hatful of dreams, manages to change the world, one delectable bite at a time.

Based on the extraordinary, iconic character at the center of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, the screenplay was crafted by Paul King and his writing partner Simon Farnaby with whom he has collaborated with for a number of years, particularly Paddington and Paddington 2.

“What I wanted to show is the flowering of a genius in the most extraordinary way you can possibly imagine—a man who discovers who he is, but also finds a family,” says King. “So, when we first meet Willy Wonka in the movie, he hasn’t really become the character that so many of us grew up with. He’s really a young man arriving in this strange city, this magical, mystical place. He has come with a very clear vision of what he wants the future to be and he believes it to be possible… and so he won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I feel you don’t become one of these great inventors without a pretty strong sense of determination and a belief in the impossible. I don’t think he’d hear somebody say, ‘Well, that’s impossible’ and go, ‘Oh well, that’s it. I roll over and give up.’ He’s Willy Wonka, and he can make Fizzy Lifting Drink! He can make the Everlasting Gobstopper!”

“This is a joyous movie. This is about bringing a light into a world that is in desperate need of it, at least that’s how I read it,” says . As a young actor, the things that were most attractive to me were things that were emotionally challenging. Either from some sense of vanity or perhaps from some sense of needing to express what I was feeling, those were the things I was most attracted to. When I read ‘Wonka,’ I did feel the classic thespian challenge—the singing, the dancing. But when I think about the main theme of this movie, when I think about its raison d’etre—it is to bring joy into the world. It’s to encourage dreaming; to encourage the dreamers to continue dreaming; to encourage declaring yourself as you are, who you are, without question. It’s to declare that to share in kindness and enthusiasm is to paint a way forward, not only for yourself, but for those around you. It’s about community, and it’s about community surviving in spaces of erosion. It’s about light and love. I’m so proud to have been a part of that.”

Starring Timothée Chalamet in the title role, this irresistibly vivid and inventive big screen spectacle will introduce audiences to a young Willy Wonka, chock-full of ideas and determined to change the world one delectable bite at a time—proving that the best things in life begin with a dream, and if you’re lucky enough to meet Willy Wonka, anything is. Keegan-Michael Key, as the arm of the law, the Chief of Police, Paterson Joseph, as nefarious Chocolate Cartel head Slugworth, Matt Lucas as less-than-sharp Chocolate Cartel member Prodnose, Sally Hawkins as Willy Wonka’s Mamma, Olivia Colman, as the scheming and entrepreneurial Mrs Scrubitt, Hugh Grant, as the Oompa Loompa and Calah Lane, as Noodle.

From Page To Screen

“I think the greatest thing about Simon is that he’s incredibly funny, and we just have a really good time writing together,” says King of his partnership with Simon Farnaby. “He’s also this brilliant performer, so by the time we come to making the movie, I have Simon’s voice saying all of the lines in my head. And it’s always great when other actors come in and I think, ‘Oh, you’re Simon, but even better!’ I think we share the same ambitions in making things as funny as they can be, but also having an emotional heart to them as well.”

If one is making a film about the creation of the world’s best chocolatier, one should perhaps bring on a real-life chocolatier to help create the hundreds of chocolates consumed onscreen in the course of the movie. Enter Gabriella Cugno, officially in the set decorating and props team, but in essence, the behind-the-scenes Wonka of “Wonka.”

The final tally of chocolates created for “Wonka” included: 900 Hoverchocs, 80 Silver Linings, 85 Big Night Outs, 150 Giraffe Milk Macaroons, 400 Forty Second Sweets (Broadway Show), 200 Hair Repair Éclairs and 80 Mamma’s Wonka Bars.


Music adds to the magic of the Willy Wonka story, with six original songs from Neil Hannon (with lyrics by Hannon, along with Farnaby and King), alongside the much-loved “Pure Imagination” and the “Oompa Loompa” theme. The six new songs are: “A Hatful of Dreams,” “You’ve Never Had Chocolate Like This,” “Scrub Scrub,” “Sweet Tooth,” “For A Moment” and “A World of Your Own.”

The film’s music department counted composer Joby Talbot, songwriter Hannon, music supervisor James Taylor and music producer Charlie Rosen among its ranks, as well as a music editor, on-set ProTools operator and a music assistant on set every day.  There was also a vocal coach, recording mix engineer and assistants working with cast and in the background.  Vocal preparation began a full four months before the commencement of principal photography.

Says Talbot: “I felt from the offset that it was imperative that the songs and the score should live in the same world, and that if I was to compose the score I should also arrange the songs, making sure that all the music was of a piece and that the songs should be able to emerge effortlessly from the surrounding music. Paul King strongly believed that the song themes should be, as far as possible, the main musical themes of the entire movie and I agreed wholeheartedly. We really wanted to be able to set the songs up so that when a character starts to sing, it seems entirely natural and logical within the heightened reality of the movie. The songs mustn’t disrupt the flow of the narrative and they mustn’t feel that they belong to a different story—to that end, I embedded as much of Neil’s song material as I could in the score, taking his melodies and turning them into character motifs that could be used to enhance the musical narrative.”

Caption: (L-r) Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka and Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa in Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures’ “WONKA,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.  Photo Credit: Jaap Buittendijk

“It wouldn’t be a Willy Wonka movie without an Oompa Loompa, but I was interested in the idea of the Oompa Loompa following Willy, rather than Willy tracking down the Oompa Loompas,” says Paul King. “We know they are huge fans of chocolate. Willy, of course, makes the best chocolate in the world, and so this Oompa Loompa is tracking Willy around the world for his chocolate and stealing it from him whenever he wants.

In the book, the Oompa Loompas have these many-pages-long poems or songs, and they’re very funny and sarcastic. They have this gleeful delight, and they are biting and sardonic. Hugh Grant’s voice kept coming into my head. And the idea of him with orange skin and green hair… Once I had that in my head, it was hard to shake it. And then I had to share that image with the world.”

Notes from Paul King

“When Simon and I were writing the first draft of the script, we tried to figure out where we felt songs would be. So, there were moments where we thought, ‘This will probably be a song,’ and slightly foolishly, we tried to write lyrics—which turns out to be quite hard (LAUGHS), but we thought we did an okay job. Sometimes, we would base them on a song, many times, one of Neil’s, or just sort of got a rhythm in our head. We hoped Neil would take the lyrics and embellish them, improve upon them. But in fact, what he did was throw them away and start again (LAUGHS)! He came back with his own stuff, which was a million times better, and it made the writing process so much better, because we could see our script and take out our B- lyrics and put in his A+ work. Suddenly, you could feel it leaping off the page. It’s an ongoing process, with figuring out where the songs go, how long they should be, who should sing and at what points. And you really don’t know until the films starts to come together. It’s a constant journey.”  

With Willy Wonka, Roald Dahl created one of his most iconic characters. I grew up loving Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–I had an old paperback and I must have read it a dozen times, because I remember the pages all came out of the book. I read all his children’s books and just loved them to pieces, but Willy Wonka was always the one that I kept coming back to. So now, to be able to imagine this origin for him–and to be granted the gift of creating this story and this world with the unwavering support of the Dahl Group–is, as Willy might proudly say, ‘A dream come true.

Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka and director PAUL KING in Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures’ WONKA,  a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Jaap Buittendijk

When I think of Timothée in this role, I just think about how simple it was casting him as Wonka. I think he has the most extraordinary quality. He feels slightly like he’s stepped in from another dimension; it feels like he captures the essence of that sort of otherworldly magical character completely perfectly—this combination of strange and slightly unknowable energy, and sincerity and humor and eccentricity. He ultimately became a true creative partner in the movie.

I think my hopes for ‘Wonka’ are the same that I hope somebody would have when reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the first time, how I felt reading it for the first time… I hope that you’ll laugh, that you’ll have a good time, that you’ll see something extraordinary and unique, but that you’ll hopefully come out of the movie feeling just a little bit more hopeful for the world.”


Filming at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden began in the fall of 2021 and shot for 21 weeks on more than 50 incredible sets built across three sound stages, a massive backlot and an aircraft hangar, and also involved shooting at more than 10 stunning locations. 

Alongside Main Unit shooting, the dance and music teams rehearsed daily with principal cast, as well as dancers, crowd, stunts and the flying team, and that schedule was as busy as the Main Unit. (Second Unit that shot alongside the Main was named “Oompa Loompa Unit.”)

To realize the world Paul King had imagined, art, set decoration, construction and props crafted a romantic, fairytale city on the Leavesden backlot, and built on and adapted beautiful locations in and around England—from a small village in Oxfordshire, to a 1950s ballroom and the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral.

King described the city to his creative team as “the best of Europe,” and production designer Nathan Crowley—working closely with set decorator Lee Sandales and property master Jamie Wilkinson—gave Paul exactly that, fashioning a charming town with a mix of Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, German and Swiss architecture. The resulting combination of set builds (borrowing from real-world structures) and location work augmented the scale of the town and authenticated the vision. The lightness of the limestone in the Bath and Oxford locations was emulated through the set builds, enhancing the romance of the newly constructed.

PAUL KING (Director / Screenplay by / Story by) is a BAFTA-nominated writer/director who works in both film and television. His most recent feature, Wonka, is an original prequel to the beloved Roald Dahl novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In 2009, King wrote and directed his first feature film, Bunny and the Bull, he then directed David Walliams and Matt Lucas’ mockumentary Come Fly With Me, which earned nominations for a number of awards, including a BAFTA for Best Comedy and a British Comedy Award for Best Sketch Show. King directed all three series of The Mighty Boosh, earning him a BAFTA nomination for Best Director in 2004. The BBC comedy aired in the U.S. on Adult Swim.

King then went onto co-write and direct Paddington in 2014 for Heyday Films and STUDIOCANAL, a film which received both critical and commercial success worldwide, including BAFTA nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best British Film. King next co-wrote and directed Paddington 2, released by Warner Bros. Pictures in 2017 to great critical acclaim. The beloved sequel also received multiple BAFTA nominations, as well as a coveted 99% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes.

SIMON FARNABY (Screenplay by / Basil, Zoo Security Guard) is an actor and writer whose starring film credits include Burke and Hare (John Landis, 2010); Your Highness (David Gordon Green, 2011); Bill (Richard Bracewell, 2015), for BBC Films, loosely based on the early life of William Shakespeare; and Bunny and the Bull (Paul King, 2009), for Film 4. Farnaby also appeared in writer/director King’s critically acclaimed, BAFTA-nominated hit Paddington, and reprised his role for the equally acclaimed sequel, Paddington 2, which he co-wrote with King, receiving two BAFTA nominations himself. His work will next be seen on the big screen in December in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and King’s Wonka, an original film based on the beloved character as the center of Road Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which Farnaby again co-scripted with the director, and also plays an onscreen role.

Simon Farnaby in Wonka.

Most recently, Farnaby’s work could be seen on the big screen in Craig Roberts’ 2021 comedy The Phantom of the Open, co-written by Farnaby, based on his own book, which stars Mark Rylance as Maurice Flitcroft, the worst golfer in the world. He also appeared in Marc Forster’s Christopher Robin in 2018; “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” for director Gareth Edwards, in 2016; and in the same year, Mindhorn, for director Sean Foley, in which he starred as Clive and co-wrote alongside longtime collaborator Julian Barratt.

His TV credits include “The Mighty Boosh,” as a core member of the supporting cast; the BAFTA-winning “Detectorists”; the quadruple BAFTA and double Comedy Award-winning “Horrible Histories”; “Jam and Jerusalem”; and “The Midnight Beast.” Along with the five other principal members of the cast of “Horrible Histories,” Farnaby is also the co-creator, writer and star of “Yonderland,” an eight-part family fantasy comedy series that premiered on Sky One in 2013.

Also in 2013, Farnaby presented a documentary entitled “Richard III: The King in the Car Park,” tracing the discovery and identification of the remains of the last Plantagenet king. The program won a Royal Television Society (RTS) award for best documentary and was nominated for a BAFTA.