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“Wonka” reviewed

Younger, sweeter and significantly less weird than his prior screen incarnations, the latest Willy Wonka — played by Timothée Chalamet — sets off on his adventure with a dream and a smile. For the next two hours, he keeps smiling, while sometimes singing, kind of dancing and concocting idiosyncratic treats like chocolates salted with, as Willy explains, “the bittersweet tears of a Russian clown.” Called hoverchocs, this particular delectable sends its nibblers flying. Alas, they weren’t given out at the press screening so I remained earthbound.

Movie franchises live forever, it seems, hence “Wonka,” a new musical origin story set in an earnest key about the first business ventures of the young Willy. It’s a bright, light movie — in palette and temperament — that’s stuffed with talented performers who seem to be having a pleasant time, even when pretending to be meanies. Its most distinctive quality is that it’s nice, with scarcely a hint of the misanthropy that burbles through Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the 1964 best seller that generated adaptations in assorted media, including two earlier films and a Broadway musical. (This movie has different music.)

Dahl’s novel and its two film adaptations feature an impoverished boy, Charlie, “a good sensible loving child” who pays a life-changing visit to a chocolate factory owned by the mysterious Willy Wonka. Directed by Paul King, “Wonka” turns back the clock to when Willy was a striver with near-empty pockets and a suitcase filled with enchantments. After years of sailing the world, he pursues his toothsome dreams in a Euro-ville pastiche, with a vaulted shopping arcade and a plaza large enough to hold big musical numbers. He soon encounters hurdles in the form of a cartel and a hotelier, Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman), who — in a plotline that mirrors one in the novel — hoodwinks guests into servitude.

“Wonka” has songs, old and new (the most memorable are from Mel Stuart’s 1971 film), dance numbers, a river of chocolate and no surprises. Among its least surprising attractions is Chalamet, an anodyne dreamboat who delivers an enthusiastic performance with a reedy tenor and awkward kicks, his floppy hair shimmying under Willy’s top hat. As the title suggests, Willy is decidedly the star: He enters perched atop a ship’s mast, an elevated position that he retains throughout. And while he soon has a child sidekick, a regulation charmer called Noodle (Calah Lane), the youngest of Mrs. Scrubbit’s indentured minions, it is Willy who now effectively has the role of the wide-eyed innocent once played by Charlie.

Willy’s affability makes this iteration of the character less like Dahl’s eccentric mad-hatter and more spiritually akin to the gentle ursine protagonist in King’s live-action movies “Paddington” and “Paddington 2.” Like that Paddington the bear, this Willy the candymaker soon finds a supportive community in his digitally enhanced new digs as well as maternal warmth from Sally Hawkins, a scene-stealing foil in Hugh Grant (here as an Oompa-Loompa) and various whimsical escapades that suggest King is as much a fan of Rube Goldberg machines as of storybook confections. The movie is overly busy, as these kinds of eager-to-please diversions tend to be, and at two hours it overstays its welcome.

Written by King and Simon Farnaby, “Wonka” could use more tart notes; at times it’s borderline saccharine. That isn’t surprising given how King has reconceptualized Wonka’s personality (there’s no shiver of menace here) and given too the Disney-fication of children’s entertainment. In the years since the book first hit, Wonka World has changed, notably in the conception of the Oompa-Loompas, the factory’s diminutive workers. Dahl originally made them African Pygmies who Wonka smuggled, but, per one biographer, after the N.A.A.C.P. complained, he ditched their origin story and made them “rosy white.” The 1971 film with Gene Wilder, in turn, gave them orange skin and green hair, a makeover that Tim Burton ditched for his 2005 movie starring Johnny Depp and that King has restored.

One of the trickier problems that Dahl presents for contemporary filmmakers is finding a way to tap into the pleasures of his work without reproducing its ugliness. The movie skirts some of this simply because it predates Willy’s fame, and maybe by the time the presumptive sequel arrives, the Oompa-Loompas will have formed a trade union. By then, I hope that Dahl’s contempt for fat characters, which the movie echoes in some unfunny business with a gluttonous police chief (Keegan-Michael Key), will also be a thing of the past.

Those bits are seriously unfortunate in a movie that otherwise embraces niceness with unforced sincerity as it invites you to let your imagination run loose, never more amusingly than with the idea that one day Timothée Chalamet will turn into Depp or, if we’re lucky, Gene Wilder.