Where does Wonka, now playing in cinemas worldwide, take place? Like the 1964 Roald Dahl novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its two previous film adaptations, the exact location is never specified — but it has a significant European feel to it, some of which has been inspired by Prague.
Dahl’s novel was likely inspired by his experiences in the UK, which is where Tim Burton’s 2005 adaptation also seems to take place. The 1971 classic starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, meanwhile, was entirely filmed in Munich… but is presumably set in the United States.
Wonka, on the other hand, is all over the European map: while it was filmed in the UK and features a few recognizable real-world landmarks such as St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and a portion of the University of Oxford, it’s setting is purposely intended to be a mixture of locales to create a vague European feel.
According to a press release from Warner Brothers, Wonka director Paul King and his creative team sought to create an ambiguous city that represented “the best of Europe.” Working with production designer Nathan Crowley, set decorator Lee Sandales, and property master Jamie Wilkinson, he created locale that featured “a mix of Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, German and Swiss architecture.”
In recent awards-season interviews that position Wonka as a candidate to receive potential Oscar nominations for production design and other categories, both Crowley and Sandales have emphasized a connection to Prague in their inspiration for creating Wonka‘s exterior sets.
“I love the whimsical hand-painted windows of Prague, and I want to mix them with Georgia and London — how do we do that? Like, let’s try a series of colonnades!” Crowley told Variety.
“If you feel your way through it, I think you can touch on everyone’s nostalgia for place. And you can connect with an audience that way, I can connect through the architecture because everyone has a weird, odd memory — wherever you’ve been that presses on your memory in Europe, there’s a bit of that in the film.”
Crowley has been a longtime collaborator of director Christopher Nolan, and received four Oscar nominations for production design (for his work on Tenet, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and First Man) and two for art direction (for The Dark Knight and The Prestige).
Wonka set decorator Sandales, meanwhile, has received a pair of Oscar nominations himself, for production design on 1917 and art direction on War Horse. He also confirmed inspiration from Prague in creating Wonka‘s sets.
“So we did draw from architecture from Prague and Paris and London, also Germany, but to pull all this together in a way that did not look like a mishmash,” Sandales told The Messenger. “It is meant to pull you in as a playground.”
“In the original film, you never know quite where you are. It has an Eastern European feel with an American layer. We wanted to make this feel like somewhere or nowhere: a place anyone could go to, and everyone can call it home.”
While Wonka‘s sets include an Astronomical Clock, Sandales notes that he drew inspiration from Swiss clocks and elsewhere rather than explicitly citing the Czech capital’s famous landmark. However, there’s one element of Wonka that was undeniably inspired by its Prague counterpart.
A tram is prominently featured during one of Wonka‘s musical numbers, with the titular character joining passengers aboard in song. While the vehicle itself is an original retro creation, it bears the familiar red-and-white color scheme of Prague’s (older) T3 models. It also happens to be a number 23, referencing one of the city’s most famous lines that now runs through the center of Prague as a nostalgic sightseeing tram.