Set Design

How Wonka’s Design Compares to Its Wacky Predecessors

The new prequel has some eye-catching delights but doesn’t lean in to the fun and fantastical as much as the previous Wonka films
wonka design
The cherry blossom tree is the centerpiece of Wonka’s first chocolate shop in the new prequel starring Timothée Chalamet.Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Finally, for those longing to be beckoned into a world of imagination, Paul King’s Wonka has hit theaters. Starring Timothée Chalamet, the origin story shows how Willy Wonka became the factory-dwelling eccentric previously seen on screen in director Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). Because many of our favorite elements of the 1971 and 2005 movies come from the imaginative design of Wonka’s factory, we were curious to see how Paul King’s Wonka would match up to the pair of beloved films.

Wonka is a prequel while Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory both loosely follow the same story, so some of the most memorable design elements shared in common between the first two movies are entirely absent from the 2023 film. Sets like the futuristic all-white Wonkavision room, where Wonka displays his ability to place a chocolate bar inside a TV for viewers to take out and consume, or the Wonkavator, which allows Wonka, Charlie, and his grandfather to soar atop the village at the end of both films, may have no place within the story of Wonka, but the many innovations add so much to the texture of the pair of older movies that they’re missed in the newest film. With its many tiny drawers and illuminated vials, the chocolate-making case that Wonka uses in the 2023 movie to create his chocolates is a fun predecessor to the expansive invention rooms, but it may leave fans of the other films wanting more.

The retrofuturistic all-white Wonkavision room appears in both the 1971 and 2005 films.

Photo: Cinematic / Alamy Stock Photo

40 real squirrels were trained to film the scene in the nut sorting room in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Cooler colors are used in the movie for Burton’s more unsettling take on Charlie’s journey through the facility.

Photo: RGR Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

Unlike in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which we learn that Wonka’s childhood was spent barred from having candy by his punishing dentist father, in Wonka the title character was raised on a boat by his mother who passed her love of making chocolate down to him. By the time period that the 2023 movie takes place in, Wonka’s mother has passed away and the story revolves around the nostalgia he has for his childhood. The chocolate shop in Wonka was specifically designed to harken back to a time he remembers so fondly and yearns for. The massive cherry blossom tree at the center of the shop recalls a tree he and his mother would sail past and a charming chocolate barge that sails a blue-and-white candy river recalls their boat.

The chocolate shop stands out as the most entrancing set of the film, though it’s not necessarily because of the emotional element of its design. According to Warner Bros, when creating the shop, the art team stuck to one rule: If it doesn’t look truly edible, don’t use it. This attention to detail is palpable in the space, which presents a cornucopia of sugary delights to glimpse at. The team researched the best ways of accomplishing this look—from sculpting to sugar coating, glazing to chocolate dipping—and the flowers, grass, bushes, lollipops, and cotton candy clouds are all the more interesting to look at because of it.

At the end of the film, Wonka finds his factory. Here, the bold colors of the other two movies are present at full scale. With its stone walls, brightly colored pipes, expansive lawn, and, perhaps most notably, abundance of natural light, the factory space most closely resembles the 1971 film’s Chocolate Room. Burton’s 2005 take on the Chocolate Room included the lawn and chocolate river, though it had a sinister, claustrophobic feeling, largely because of its lack of windows. Though a subtle move, the similarity in the 1971 factory and the 2023 factory underscores director Paul King’s statement that Wonka is a prequel to the first adaptation, not the second.

Even amidst all of the bright colors, many warm tones are used in the design of the 1971 movie’s factory, and Wonka follows suit.

Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

According to People, about a third of the candy in the 1971 movie’s Chocolate Room was actually edible.

Photo: LMPC via Getty Images

“The ’71 movie had come up with these incredibly enduring, iconic looks,” King told EW. “What I wanted this movie to be was like a companion piece to that movie. If you imagine those people in that world 25 years earlier, that was my starting process. Eventually, he would grow into that person and that factory.” By ending on the factory resembling the 1971 one, it’s easy to imagine how the younger Wonka’s journey would lead into the events of that film—and it’s clear that every version of Wonka craves color.

Wonka’s factory appears in only one scene at the end of the film. Its colorful pipes, loads of natural light, and stone walls recall the design of the Chocolate Room in the 1971 film.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures