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Hugh Grant's Oompa Loompa is kept to the background in Wonka, thankfully

Hugh Grant is great in the role, but too much of a good thing would've wrecked the movie

Wonka
Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

If one thing in particular looked a little… unnerving about Wonka from the trailers, it was the sight of Hugh Grant as an Oompa-Loompa, trapped in a glass jar and very upset about it. The entire glimpse jarred — no pun intended; the sight of Hugh Grant, of all people, in the role, and also of the CGI required to transform the Love, Actually and Paddington 2 actor into the diminutive character, both set off alarm bells in many an audience member’s mind. Was this what we had to look forward to?

Now that the movie is out, it’s safe to report that — to the movie’s credit, and I suspect many people’s relief — Wonka’s filmmakers realized that a little bit of Oompa Loompa magic goes a long way.

As it turns out, Grant’s Oompa Loompa — who introduces himself as “Lofty,” is barely in Wonka, although he plays a particularly important part in the movie’s climax. He appears in just four scenes of note, and only truly interacts with Willy Wonka himself, which creates one of the running jokes in the film: that other characters don’t even believe that he exists. (To be fair, “a tiny little man with orange skin and green hair that no-one else has seen” is a bit of an ask for others to buy immediately.) For all intents and purposes, he’s an Easter Egg with one specific plot purpose, beyond the epilogue setting up the Chocolate Factory that audiences already know and love.

(He additionally hosts the closing credits song, which is essentially an epilogue to the epilogue, but that’s more of a gag than anything else.)

It’s a smart move. Ignoring the fact that the CGI for the character really doesn’t land, any more of the Oompa Loompa would break the “reality” of the movie, which is intentionally ridiculous and filled with magical realism when it comes to Willy’s achievements, but is otherwise relatively grounded. Perhaps more importantly, it would break the tone of the movie, which puts the sincerity and kindness of Willy and his compatriots against the greed and cynicism of those standing in his way.

Thanks to a wonderfully dry performance from Grant, who’s clearly loving his new arch-camp persona in movies like this and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, the Oompa Loompa breaks that dynamic somewhat, being both a morally ambiguous presence and a cynical one up until the movie’s finale; he contradicts the binary simplicity of the movie’s fairy tale structure.

Instead, what we’re left with is… a soupçon of Oompa Loompa, a tease of the future of Willy Wonka that the audience knows is ahead of him, and the joy that is Hugh Grant chewing every single piece of scenery available for fun and profit. Little enough to make us want more, and not distract from the rest of the movie in the process.

Wonka is in theaters now. Buy tickets on Fandango or Atom Tickets.


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