Warner Bros’ Plans for its Willy Wonka Prequel

Exclusive: Warner Bros is looking to bolster the role of a character or two in its new Willy Wonka film...

Disney is currently courting Paul King, champion director of The Mighty Boosh, two Paddington movies, and Bunny & The Bull, to take charge of their new, largely live-action Pinocchio remake.

King has certainly got an aptitude for integrating childlike CG leads into sometimes whimsical, rich and multi-layered worlds, so I can see why they studio would be so keen. Beyond that, however, King is a witty and imaginative storyteller with real skill in honing nicely-shaped, smart and compelling narratives. That’s the really important bit. Especially when it comes to making a film that could live up to, or at least stand respectably alongside, the original Disney Pinocchio. What a truly astonishing piece of film craft it is.

The trade press reports that King is in ‘negotiations’ to make the new Pinocchio film, which means – in basic terms – that he wants to do it, if the terms are right. Those terms will involve some notion of scheduling, and this will have some effect on another project he has been considering.

For over at Warner Bros., Paddington producer David Heyman is putting together a new, Willy Wonka-centric prequel to Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Sometime Saturday Night Live writer Simon Rich has been working on a screenplay and, as the headlines recently declared, Paul King was the pick to direct.

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But can he do both?

Heyman, unsuprisingly, wants to work with King again. We don’t want to put words into his mouth, but King has been instrumental to the producer’s vision of what the Wonka prequel could be.

So will Wonka sit on the shelf while Pinocchio becomes a real boy? Or will Warner Bros. be too keen to get their franchise up and running?

Roald Dahl was not a fan of Mel Stuart’s 1971 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and his estate was very keen to see Tim Burton’s new version come along and take the limelight. Very recently, however, Warner Bros has released an animated sidequel-cum-remake of the 71 film, in animated form, with Tom and Jerry inserted into the plot. That idea alone is mad genius, and I was extremely surprised to see it happen.

So is the Dahl estate loosening their grip, giving WB license to spin chocolate into gold? Or are they even driving things forward somewhat?

Whatever happens with Paul King and Pinocchio, we’ll be absolutely flabbergasted if Warners don’t get some kind of Wonka movie on screen in the next three or four years. I’d personally love to see King’s version, if it happens, although there’s a strong chance now that Warner Bros will look elsewhere for its director should King take the Disney job

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As for the Wonka film, though, what I know – which is almost nothing – about Simon Rich’s approach sounds appealing.

What I’ve heard about the film is that it will be a prequel and that while a “younger” Willy Wonka will be the protagonist, there will also be some antagonists drawn from Dahl’s stories. Things might change if the film goes into a new wave of development, but what we’ve heard is that Slugworth, Ficklegruber, and Prodnose will all need casting for this film.

In Dahl’s book, Uncle Joe tells a story of spies sent into Wonka’s chocolate factory to steal his secrets. We’re introduced to the world of confectionery espionage, and that Wonka has rivals – Mr. Slugworth, Mr. Ficklegruber, Mr. Prodnose – who are keen to steal his secrets. Do we know what roles they play in the new screenplay? Not yet, but we’re trying to find out. But they’re part of the plans.

Interestingly, Slugworth’s part in the story has been boosted between the 1971 movie and its Tom & Jerry cartoon reincarnation and he now has a song of his own. 

If this film goes into stasis while it waits for Paul King, or if another director takes the reigns and sets a new course, anything and everything could change. But in the meantime, this information about the inclusion of some villainous rivals in Rich’s story, at least allows some notion of what’s going on inside Warner Bros. secret movie-making factory, and it’s looking fairly sweet.