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Choc horror: will Wonka turn the tide on sickly movie chocolate?

<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

Even before most of the world has seen it, we can all safely assume one thing: Wonka has done chocolate better than any film in the history of cinema. This is for two reasons. The first is that, as director Paul King recently revealed, everything in the movie that looks like it could be eaten could actually be eaten.

During the filming of Wonka, a chocolatier was on hand full-time to make sure that every fantastical confection was authentic, and told the Radio Times that “Everything consumed in the movie is properly edible and tasty, even the flowers and leaves.” Gabriella Cugno, the chocolatier in question, estimates that she had to make five different versions of every confection in the script, along with chocolate cups and saucers and several hundred of the film’s centrepiece hoverchocs.

That is the first reason. The second is that Hollywood has had a weirdly hard time when it comes to making on-screen chocolate look delicious. Which is bizarre, since a) the movie industry now has the ability to convincingly replicate entire human beings and b) chocolate is actually delicious.

For proof, you just have to look at the two previous Willy Wonka movies that made it to the big screen. When you read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a child, you probably pictured the chocolate river as thick and glossy, like the sort of rich ganache you can only really dream about. But then you watched the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory adaptation, and what did you see? A delicious chocolate river? No. Any form of chocolate river whatsoever? No. What you saw in that film was brown water. The chocolate river in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory looked like a flooded sewage works. When Augustus Gloop fell into the river in the film, you weren’t worried that he’d drown. You were worried that he would contract a serious strain of gastroenteritis from splashing around in what to all the world looked like human diarrhoea.

Tim Burton’s 2005 remake fared a little better – the production contracted chemical firm Vickers to manufacture more than a million litres of fake chocolate – but the stuff still didn’t completely convince. The fluid used consisted of hydroxyethyl cellulose, organic pigments and food-grade biocide, none of which sounds particularly delicious, and it shows. While it has a lovely gloss compared with the effluent sludge of the 1970s, it still looked far too wet and far too stomach-churning. There is a moment in the film when Willy Wonka scoops a ladle of chocolate from the river and hands it to young Freddie Highmore, who greedily gulps it down. Highmore has grown up to become a highly accomplished actor, but his greatest achievement will always be the way he didn’t projectile-vomit a gutload of warm, brown almost-chocolate all over Johnny Depp the moment that it hit his stomach.

But this is only the tip of the terrible chocolate iceberg. Another Dahl adaptation, 1996’s Matilda, also features a memorably ghastly chocolate scene, in which a young boy is forced to devour unthinkable slices of chocolate cake, which he does first by grabbing fistfuls of wet cake and forcing them into his mouth, and then just putting his mouth to the plate. By the end of the scene, his face and arms and clothes are heavy with icing, and you never want to see another cake as long as you live.

Then there is the sequence in Ken Russell’s Tommy in which, gripped by some sort of horrific mania, Ann-Margret erotically flings herself through a torrent of foodstuffs. There is champagne, which is fine. Then there are baked beans, which is less fine. But then she is blasted by industrial quantities of melted chocolate, at which point the only sensible human reaction is to dry-heave until you start crying.

Related: Wonka review – Timothée Chalamet’s Chocolate Factory prequel is a superbly sweet treat

But by far the worst example of movie chocolate doesn’t contain any gross-out moment whatsoever. Throughout Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, Christian Bale’s character is able to endure moments of extreme horror by fixing his mind on the light at the end of the tunnel, which is a Hershey’s bar. He longs for a Hershey’s bar. He fantasises about a Hershey’s bar. At the end of the movie, after all he’s been through, he finally gets his hand on a Hershey’s bar, and the taste of it throws him into a rapture of delight. As such, an entire generation of British people grew up to believe that Hershey’s chocolates were the best and most delicious in the world. And then they sought them out and bought one, and discovered to their horror that all Hershey’s chocolate tastes like shop-spoiled natural gas. It was the biggest letdown of our lives. We can only pray that Wonka can improve on this.