A World of Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains an adored classic, almost half a century after its initial release. The timeless movie continues to appeal to new generations of chocolate lovers who cherish the story just as much as its original fans. The vibrant energy, peculiar characters, and whimsical songs were all combined brilliantly. It’s no wonder this 1971 movie stood the test of time.

Peter Ostrum looking around shocked in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory / Johnny Depp reaching his hand forward in a white room
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It’s a tale about a boy named Charlie who found the rare and desired Golden Ticket that every child in America tried to get their hands on. Charlie and four other Golden Ticket winners get to join Willy Wonka on a tour of his factory. With Oompa Loompas, greedy kids, and gum that can turn you into a blueberry, the fantasy film managed to create a delicious world that viewers can escape to.

I love Willy Wonka more than Augustus Gloop loves food, but here are some things even I didn’t know about the iconic chocolate factory.

The Psychedelic Boat Trip Was a Surprise

Director Mel Stuart wanted his actors to look truly surprised, so he purposely didn’t let the cast know how intense the crazy tunnel scene would become. And when Gene Wilder – who did a great job at looking borderline possessed – delivered his creepy poem, the kids on the boat were genuinely freaked out.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka with his eyes widened sitting in the front of the boat
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

No one had any idea he was going to deliver his crazed monologue with that level of intensity. In the 2001 behind-the-scenes DVD, Peter Ostrum (who played Charlie) revealed that he and Grandpa Joe weren’t warned that Wilder would yell at them like that. They were truly surprised because he always spoke in a much softer tone during rehearsals.

The Chocolate River Was Fake and Smelly

As a kid, you probably felt like diving headfirst into the chocolate river, right? Well, that would have been a bad idea because the river tasted disgusting. It was 150,000 gallons of water, chocolate, and cream. And after a while, the cream started to spoil, and the whole river soured up and smelled nasty.

Augustus inside of the chocolate river with everyone on the edge upset
Photo by LMPC / Getty Images

Michael Bollner (who played Augustus Gloop) described it as “dirty, stinky water.” I don’t know about you, but I was a bit disappointed to find out that the river I longed to jump in as a kid was nothing more than spoiled brown liquid.

Veruca’s Song Took Forever to Shoot

Let’s be real. We all have a bit of Veruca salty attitude deep down inside us. Who doesn’t want to have their desires fulfilled this very instant? Who doesn’t want cream pies and donuts and fruit cakes with no nuts? (On second thought, nuts are fine).

Veruca singing next to her father in a room full of boxes and ribbon
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Veruca’s iconic song “I Want it Now” was a great scene. But it was a real pain to shoot because of all the props. Actress Julie Dawn Cole revealed it took her a total of 36 takes to nail the moment where she had to throw ribbons and boxes around the room. “The most [takes] I’ve ever done in my career,” she admitted.

The Lickable Wallpaper Was Far from Fruity

I doubt anyone really believed that the wallpaper tasted good, but we all kind of hoped it did. It was pretty disgusting to see the cast lick the wall, and we all prayed there was a hint of snoozeberry somewhere on it. Sadly, there wasn’t.

Charlie and his grandfather with another woman to the left of them licking the fruit patterned wall paper
Source: YouTube 

Peter Ostrum (Charlie) and Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca) revealed that the wallpaper “tasted like wallpaper.” If you were wondering what wallpaper tastes like, according to Julie Dawn Cole, “it tastes disgusting.” Yuck…

The Film’s Last Words Were Changed

The film’s final scene wrapped everything up with a sweet bow of happiness and love. The endearing dialogue between Wonka and Charlie was perfect and heartwarming. Could you imagine it ending any other way? Surprisingly, it was supposed to.

Willy Wonka in the elevator with the controls behind him standing with Charlie and Grandpa Joe
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After Wonka told Charlie he’s giving him the rights to his delicious factory, Charlie’s Grandpa was supposed to yell out, “Yippee!” But director Mel Stuart instructed screenwriter David Seltzer to come up with a different ending. A few minutes later, “Yippee” was replaced with “Happily ever after.”

Was Willy Wonka an Evil Mastermind?

Not everyone notices this at first, but if you look back at Wonka’s boat, the SS Wonkatania, you’ll see that it has the exact amount of seats needed to carry him and his eight guests. That’s a strange coincidence considering that Augustus Gloop was sucked up through a pipe a while before.

The cast of Willy Wonka sitting in a colorful boat on the chocolate river
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You can’t help but wonder if Gloop’s pipe accident wasn’t really an accident. Either he had multiple boats, and he chose them according to the number of people, or all of those disappearances were completely pre-meditated. Hmmm…

Gene Wilder Had to Chew On Wax

It doesn’t take much to help kid actors get into character. All you need is candy and jelly, and they’re good to go. That’s why the set designers of the film decorated many parts of the factory with edible sweets. But not all props were meant for eating.

Willy Wonka sitting in front of bushes with a yellow tea cup
Source: Paramount Pictures

The yellow flower cup Wilder takes a bite of at the end of the song, “Pure Imagination,” wasn’t edible at all. If you look close enough, you’ll realize it’s made out of wax, and it looks different from the flowers behind him. He had to chew on it until the take ended.

They Were on a Tight Budget

The movie had a tight budget of around $3 million. That limited amount of cash forced producers to rethink some of the details and change a few things from Roald Dahl’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For example, while the book features nut-cracking squirrels, the movie had to swap it for egg-laying geese.

Veruca singing next to the goose egg weight machines and an Oompa Loompa inspecting a large golden goose egg
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$3 million might not sound too bad, but just to put things into perspective, the 2005 film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” had a whopping $150 million to play with.

Is There A Hidden Meaning Behind Wonka’s Office Décor?

Like Alice in Wonderland, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a trippy movie that puts you in the mood of figuring out the meaning behind certain details. But not all elements in this film are necessarily symbolic.

Willy Wonka and Charlie next to his desk and other office furniture and decorations which are all cut in half
Source: YouTube 

Despite what many assume, Wonka’s office décor doesn’t point to anything other than what it is – just a few items cut in half. Mel Stuart explained it was an aesthetic choice, not a symbolic one. He needed something to suit Wonka’s madness, and cutting everything off in half seemed like the perfect design.

Wonka’s Factory Wasn’t an Actual Factory

As viewers of the film, we saw a chocolate factory. But in reality, Wonka’s wonderland was a power plant. The building used to shoot the factory’s exterior was Munich Gasworks, located in Germany, where the whole movie was filmed.

Willy Wonka with the children and their parents posing in front of the Wonka factory entrance
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Mel Stuart carefully chose Munich because he searched for a place that wouldn’t be too obvious to locate, one that had a “storybook quality” to it. And the last reason – it was a cheap location. Fun fact: some of the Oompa Loompas were recruited from nearby towns, so they barely knew English!

Oompa Loompas From All Over the World

Finding enough Oompa Loompas wasn’t an easy task. And after a long and wide search, producers ended up with a group of colorful actors from different areas of the world. Six of the 10 Oompa Loompas were British, and the remaining were from Germany, Malta, and Turkey.

The Oompa Loompas from Willy Wonka posing together near the chocolate river with the giant lollipops
Photo by Arthur Sidey / Mirrorpix / Getty Images

The orange helpers also ranged in age. One of them was in his late ‘70s at the time of filming! Amazingly, the diverse group bonded and took their time off between shootings to go to bars together and get drunk. Now that would be a sight to see.

The Misleading Limp Was Wilder’s Idea

Wonka’s clever entrance was Wilder’s idea. After he read the script, he told Mel Stuart that he wanted to fool everyone and limp his way towards the factory gate, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” He explained.

Willy Wonka about to fall and roll at the entrance of Wonka factory
Source: Paramount Pictures

He had it all planned out, “…my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself… but I keep on walking until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”

The Oompa Loompa’s Dance Routine Was Challenging

Willy Wonka’s script was on point, the design was playful, and the musical bits were witty. In the movie, the choreography was done by Howard Jeffrey, who had also worked with Barbara Streisand on the 1970 film, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

Five of the Oompa Loompas singing and pouring cream into the chocolate river
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According to some Oompa Loompas, Jeffrey’s dance moves weren’t the easiest to learn. And some orange helpers had to be excluded from the dance routine all together because of their age and relatively stiff body.

Roald Dahl Didn’t Like It at First

This one’s a bit of a shocker. Author Roald Dahl, the genius behind the story, didn’t really approve of the film at first. The many changes he noticed bugged him. But eventually, the film grew on him. And he admitted that it “contained many good things.”

Roald Daahl posing for a portrait in a red cardigan
Photo by Tony Evans / Getty Images

Still, he refused to let anyone make a movie out of his second book, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. He also instructed that if anyone wanted to make a new version of the Chocolate Factory, it had to be after he died. Fifteen years after Dahl’s death, the 2005 renewal was approved.

The Kids’ Reaction to the Chocolate Room Was Genuine

Director Mel Stuart knew what he was doing when he ordered the kids to stay away from the set until filming began. He wanted to capture their genuine expressions as they ooed and awed over the iconic chocolate room.

Willy Wonka leading everyone in to the chocolate room standing at the top of the staircase, everyone looking excited
Photo by Paramount / Getty Images

The look you see on the kids’ faces is 100% authentic. Stuart did a great job at creating those realistic moments. As a viewer, you could really sense the pure joy the kids felt as they explored the factory for the first time.

Wonka Was Like a Father to Charlie in Real Life

You’ve probably heard of many cases where two lead actors don’t really get along backstage, despite their close friendship on camera. Luckily, that’s not the case with this film. Charlie and Wonka were super tight, both on and off set.

Willy Wonka and Charlie sitting on the movie set in the chocolate room
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Peter Ostrum told Variety that his co-star, Wilder, “treated people with respect and dignity.” They were so close that when Wilder passed away, Ostrum said it was like losing a parent. Wilder played a huge role in all of his co-star’s lives.

Charlie Gave Up Acting and Became a Vet

You would expect that snatching such a significant role as a kid would lead to more acting gigs, but for Peter Ostrum, that wasn’t the case at all. He gave up acting to become a veterinarian. Instead of entertaining us through the screens, he preferred to take care of animals.

Peter Ostrum mholding a signed golden ticket sitting behind a table with a black tablecloth
Peter Ostrum. Photo by Steve Granitz / WireImage / Getty Images

He studied at Cornell University and received his veterinary degree in 1984. An interesting transition, indeed! And here we were…hoping Charlie was still running Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and spreading sugary goods to the world.

The Oompa Loompa Steering the Boat Was Lied To

The Oompa Loompa captain from the SS Wonkatania scene thought he had full control over the boat. But, as it turns out, he didn’t. The boat was moving on a track underwater and was being pulled by cables. But the director saw how devoted the helper was, so he let him believe it.

The boat coming down the chocolate river about to pick everyone up
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“I wanted him to think he was directing its course,” Stuart explained in his book, Pure Imagination. The orange captain felt that everyone’s fate was in his hands, which was a huge responsibility! Especially when they swirled rapidly into the tunnel of terror.

Quaker Oats Funded the Movie

The idea for the film came from Stuart’s 10 year old daughter, after she immersed herself in Dahl’s incredible novel. Stuart loved the idea and suggested it to his producer friend, David Wolpert. Wolpert, who had just worked with Quaker Oats on a TV special, convinced the brand to invest in the movie.

Charlie in front of the entrance of Bill’s candy shop where they sell Wonka bars
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Quaker Oats gladly agreed. For them, it was an opportunity to promote a new chocolate bar in the making. Who would have thought, right? The creator of our favorite hearty oatmeal is also the person responsible for this sugary movie.

Mike Teavee Became an Avid Backpacker

TV-obsessed Mike Teavee appeared on our screens again in 2018. This time, as a contestant on the game show Jeopardy. Alex Trebek’s introduced him as an “avid backpacker” that has traveled to 61 countries. Surprisingly, the host made no mention of actor Paris Themmen’s iconic role.

Mike Teavee standing in front of large lollipops / Paris Themmen, who played Mike Teavee, sitting in a light blue shirt today
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But the producers of the show were well aware of Paris’ past. It was written on the host’s card he had in front of him. For some reason, he skipped the Willy Wonka detail and discussed only the backpacking bit. But it wasn’t long until fans of the film realized it was Mike Teavee and discussed it over on social media.

Only One of the Kids Stuck With Acting

Out of the whole bunch, Julie Dawn Cole (who played Veruca Salt) was the only one who continued acting. She stuck to her “bad girl” image when she played a delinquent in an episode of Saturday Night Theatre and a young criminal in a prison drama titled Within These Walls.

Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt shaking Willy Wonka’s hand at the gate in front of the factory / Julie Dawn Cole on the red carpet today
Photo by Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / Cindy Ord, Getty Images

But she went from being an offender to an altruistic nurse when she landed the role of Jo Longhurst, one of the leading characters in the BBC’s medical drama, Angels. Cole has also performed in numerous theatrical projects. It looks like the little brat straightened herself up.

Violet Gave Up Gum for Life

Denise Nickerson (who played blueberry darling Violet Beauregarde) said she adored chewing away for hours on set. But after a while, things started to get icky in her mouth. In 2015, she told NBC that she stopped chewing gum after the movie wrapped up.

Denise Nickerson blown up like a blueberry being help by Oomps Loompsas to get out of the room / Denise Nickerson on the red carpet today
Photo by Paramount, Getty Images / Cindy Ord, Getty Images

It wasn’t because she was sick of the taste. It was because all of that chewing left her with 13 cavities! Lesson learned. If you want to chomp down on gum all day, you better make sure it’s sugar-free. So long bubble gum, you won’t be missed.

The Kids Remained Good Friends

In 2015, after more than 40 years, the cast reunited for NBC’s “Today.” Paris Themmen (Mike Teavee) told the interviewers, “We think of ourselves as a family. A dysfunctional family maybe but a family, really.” It’s incredible that they managed to stay in touch, because they all really went their separate ways.

The five kids from the cast of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory posing around a cake with a Wonka bar logo and candles that spell out 30 lit up
Michael Bollner, Denise Nickerson, Paris Themmen, Julie Dawn Cole, and Peter Ostrum. Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images

One became a vet (Peter Ostrum), one an accountant (Michael Velner, a.k.a Augustus Goop). One got into real estate and opened a travel agency (Paris Themmen). But even so, they remained tight through the years and still cherish every moment they spent together in that magical wonderland.

The Oompa Loompas Were Mischievous

Despite their cultural differences and language barriers, the Oompa Loompas got along great. According to Paris Themmen, they were “notoriously mischievous” and loved to get drunk both on and off set.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka surrounded by Oompa Loompas
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Themmen mentioned that the actors once grabbed the crew’s shoes that were left by the hotel room doors, and once they had all of them lined up, they tied them together and left them in a pile as a prank! Somehow, we’re not really surprised. The Oompa Loompas came off as total pranksters in the film too.

Everyone Wanted to Be Willy Wonka

Gene Wilder perfected the part of Willy Wonka. There was truly no other person that could play the part as well as he did! We’re glad he got it because it could have easily been snatched by somebody else. Apparently, there were many people desperate to play Willy.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka sitting in front of fake lollipops
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Actors Fred Astaire and Peter Sellers both contacted Roald Dahl and expressed their interest in the lead role. Additional actors who tried their luck were John Cleese and Eric Idle. Eventually (and thankfully), Wilder was the final pick.

A Few Mistakes in the Script

There are a few mistakes in the film’s script, although we’re not sure if they’re intentional or accidental. One small error occurs when Wonka quotes Shakespeare. He tells Charlie, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” But the line really goes, “So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”

Charlie handing his ticket to Willy Wonka at the gate while entering with his grandfather
Photo by Paramount / Getty Images

An additional mishap appears when Mike Teavee’s mom states that the tune Wonka plays is by Rachmaninoff when it’s actually a melody from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. But it’s fine. We’ll forgive her for getting them confused. Her brain was probably clouded from all that sugar.

Candy Man Helped Revive A Rat Pack Legend’s Career

“The Candy Man” became Sammy Davis Jr.’s number one hit in 1972. Incredibly, he admitted he disliked the song at first. He was reluctant to record it, claiming it “may just pull my whole career down.” Little did he know it was going to land his name at the top of the charts.

Aubrey Woods handing Charlie a chocolate bar from behind the counter at the chocolate store
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The song revitalized Sammy’s career and opened the doors to many new opportunities. “The Candy Man” even earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Male Vocalist at the 15th Annual Award ceremony We’re not surprised the song did so well! Who can say no to candy?

The Civil Rights Movement Influenced Some Changes

The book is called “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” so why did Mel Stuart put Willy Wonka at the forefront of his film’s title? Stuart decided to change the movie’s name because he learned that the name “Mister Charlie” was how many slaves used to call their overseers before the civil war.

Willy Wonka, Violet, Charlie, and his grandfather standing in front of a candy machine watching it work
Photo by Paramount / Getty Images

So Stuart figured that Willy Wonka would be a better fit. The movie’s director has also mentioned that the Oompa Loompas were described in the book as African pygmies, but they became orange-faced characters in the movie.

It Took Several Takes to Master Those Cartwheels

Oompa Loompa doompa dee doo, I’ve got another puzzle for you! A creepy yet great scene, the vision room dance number showed the orange-faced bunch dance around and cartwheel their way across the white room.

Oompa Loompas doing cartwheels in an all white room
Source: YouTube 

And while it looks easy enough, it actually took them forever to shoot. 76 takes, to be exact! Actor Rusty Goffe revealed the tiring number, claiming that he had to go through all those trials before he finally nailed his cartwheel. That’s dedication right there! We’re proud.

One Child Actor Was Seconds Away From a Blow to the Chin

The Candy Man Can scene is chaotic. A bunch of sugar craving kids in a candy store? Yup, that’s a recipe for disaster. And if you look carefully at the scene, you’ll notice that amid all that excitement and mayhem, one little girl with ninja-like reflexes avoided a painful blow to the chin.

Aubrey Woods hanging off the wall on a ladder throwing candy out to children with their arms raised
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Actress Aubrey Woods stood right in front of the countertop’s entry, so when the candy man lifted it, she quickly moved back. It was a super close call! That scene could have ended in complete disaster. Aubrey was probably so fixed on that candy that her whole body was alert and prepared to tackle anything that stood in her way.

One Oompa Loompa Was Paid $1 Million

In the 2005 version, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa Loompas become the ultimate creepy helpers. Why? Because they’re just one single person multiplied by 165. Actor Deep Roy told Entertainment Weekly that he was told at first he would play only five.

Deep Roy wearing all white with sunglasses sitting in a large chair made of two circles
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“But five Oompas quickly turned into 165 — and they’re not computerized; I did each one individually myself,” he explained. That meant the same scene over and over again from different places and different angles. Insane right? He was paid $1 million for his hard work.

Attack of the Squirrels!

In the 2005 film, some creatures were animatronics, but the squirrels that jumped on Veruca were %100 real. The squirrels were trained to jump on the little girl and nibble away. They were also trained to crack open the nutshells and place them on the conveyor belt.

Squirrels lined up along a conveyer belt with nuts
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Animal trainer Michael Alexander and his team spent 19 weeks preparing 40 squirrels for the movie. Originally, they wanted to train 100 squirrels but came to the conclusion that it would be too difficult because the animals can be quite unpredictable.

The Pink Candy Boat Was Real

The beautiful pink sea horse boat was totally real. No special effects included. And it really did float! It wasn’t made from hard, pink candy (although that would be great), but it was still an actual prop you could sail on. Pretty mind-blowing if you ask us!

Deep Roy as the Oompa Loompa multiplied so that he is taking up every row of seats in a boat
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Creating such a huge prop required more than 20 weeks of hard, diligent work. The flamboyant boat rowed itself down the chocolate river, so the boat’s designer had to create a mechanism that would make the digitally added Oompa Loompas seem more authentic.

Jim Carrey Could Have Been Willy Wonka

Johnny Depp is one eclectic actor. He plays his colorful roles brilliantly, and you easily buy into all of his characters. And Willy Wonka is no exception. But other people were considered for this desirable role, including Jim Carrey, Nicolas Cage, and even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka giving the tour in a grey hallway / Jim Carrey on the red carpet
Source: MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: Warner Bros / Photo by Vittorio Zuniono Celotto, Getty Images

Additional names that were brought up were Will Smith, Ben Stiller, and Brad Pitt. Eventually, Tim Burton decided to go with Johnny Depp. We’re happy about the decision. It would be quite strange to see The Rock play a mad man who owns a chocolate factory.

Nestle Provided Thousands of Chocolate Bars

Lucilky for the kids, they had plenty of real, yummy chocolate on the set of the movie and were allowed to stuff their faces with as much candy as they wanted. At first, it was exciting, but after a while, they grew tired of all the sugar.

Augustus with chocolate all over his face holding a Golden Ticket posing in a meat shop
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According to the film’s trivia on IMDB, Nestlé provided the movie with approximately 1850 bars of real chocolate! And the company provided the film with 110,000 wrappers for their fake candy displays. We wonder if the cast went through all 1850 bars.

The Film Lacks Color on Purpose

At the start of the 2005 movie, the colors are somewhat muted, and everything looks dull, grey, and cold. This was done on purpose for the viewers to experience the startling contrast once Charlie and the group enter the vibrant and colorful factory.

A scene where four Oompa Loompas are kneeling and dancing in yellow jumpsuits while a man walks down the stairs from Willy Wonka’s tour group towards them
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The muted hues at the beginning really allow you to dive deep into Willy Wonka’s quirky and whimsical factory, which is splashed with vibrant colors and bizarre items. That’s some genius work by the movie’s production. They provided us with a spectacular entrance to Willy Wonka’s wonderland.

The Chocolate River This Time Was Real

In the 2005 rendition, producers learned from past mistakes done in the ‘70s and made sure that their chocolate river was real. That meant no diluted liquid with cream that would spoil after a few hours. Tim Burton used 192,000 gallons of melted chocolate for his creamy river.

Augustus covered in chocolate struggling to swim in the chocolate river
Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros

Burton did all he could to perfect the river’s look and tested nine shades of chocolate before settling on the perfect one. “Having seen the first film, we wanted to make the chocolate river look edible.” Designer Alex McDowell told the LA Times.

One Actress Suffered Jaw Cramps

We learned that in the 1971 film, actress Denise Nickerson admitted she gave up gum after the film wrapped up and had 13 cavities from all the sugar that swirled in her mouth. And in the 2005 film, actress Anna Sophia Robb revealed that she got jaw cramps from all the chewing!

Denise Nickerson with three of the other kids in a boat on the chocolate river
Photo by Arthur Sidey / Mirrorpix / Getty Images

It may seem like the perfect role, but apparently, in both films, the actresses suffered from the continuous chewing. We wonder if Anna Sophia Robb also gave up gum for good. She probably ate soup and drank shakes for a year until her jaw felt better.

The Trees Were Made of Real Candy

In the 1971 film, many of the candies growing on trees were fake. But in 2005, producers went all out (they also had a lot more millions to spare on the movie, after all) and invested in actual chocolate flowers, chocolate trees, and other incredible delicacies.

Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka showing everyone around with candy trees around them
Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros

A chocolate shop in England produced many of those goods. It’s pretty unbelievable that a lot of the candy was real! And yes, even that giant pink sugar cane was edible! Working on the set of Willy Wonka was every kid’s dream. And after reading this list, I think we all know why.

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