Chocolate On Film: When Have Movies Satisfied Audiences’ Sweet Spots?

From 'Willy Wonka' to 'Chocolat,' a look at tasty films dependent on cocoa beans.

What can take tomorrow and dip it in a dream? Why, chocolate of course. Pure chocolate contains antioxidants, which means it can help prevent cancer. It releases serotonin, which means it makes you happier. It’s a third more likely then codeine to stop persistent coughs. Research even indicates it can be used to treat dementia and diabetes. Sure, the Candy Man gets all the credit, but it’s chocolate itself that makes the world taste good.

Like “mom” and “home,” chocolate is a word that makes you feel good just to hear it. “Blood & Chocolate,” a new werewolf film staring Agnes Bruckner, is the latest attempt by Hollywood to play off that positive association, but it’s hardly the first. From “Willy Wonka” to “The Chocolate War,” we took a look at some of the recent — and very different — movies with a hankering for the sweet stuff. How different? You could even say these movies are like a box of chocolates, well, you know the rest …

Title: “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971)
Sweetest Moment: Our first glimpse of the candy garden, a paradise where even the grass is edible.
The Facts: Wonka’s claim that “No other factory in the world mixes its chocolate by waterfall” isn’t exactly true, points out Jan Ludtke, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in Burlington, Wisconsin. The bustling community, nicknamed “Chocolate City,” is home to Nestlé USA.

“Every year Nestlé makes a creation of some kind. They actually once made a working chocolate waterfall,” she said. “Last year they made a working chocolate carousel with music and four chocolate horses.”

Title: “Pane e Cioccolata (Bread and Chocolate)” (1973)
Bittersweet: Starring Italian sensation Nino Manfredi, “Bread and Chocolate” was hailed as a Chaplin-esque comic adventure wherein Nino struggles as an outsider in two cultures. The title is a satirical jab at a bourgeois Swiss society that eats for pleasure (chocolate) and the hardworking immigrants who, with little money, eat to live (bread).
The Facts: One town that really does eat chocolate to live is Hershey, Pennsylvania — home to Hershey’s chocolate and its amusement park, Hersheypark. “You can’t even put a value on how much chocolate means to our district,” Assistant Township Manager Jill Horner said. “Chocolate really brings in a lot of tourism.”

Title: “The Chocolate War” (1988)
Hershey’s Diss: “The Vigils don’t believe in physical violence, but we’ve found it necessary to have a punishment code. We can make your life sad. But we’re letting you off easy. Tomorrow, we’re simply asking you to sell the chocolates.” Jerry, the new kid at a draconian Catholic high school, is forced by a sadistic gang known as the Vigils into selling boxes of chocolates for a fundraiser.
The Facts: Selling chocolate is a familiar rite of passage for many American girls who, as members of the Girl Scouts, have been going door-to-door selling cookies since 1917.

Title: “Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate)” (1992)
Hot Chocolate: A Mexican flick that changed the face of Latin filmmaking, the movie takes its name from the practice of using boiling water, rather than milk, to make hot chocolate. Someone who feels heavily aroused is said to be “like water for chocolate.”
The Facts: The movie uses magical realism to explain how Tita, forbidden to marry the love of her life, is able to affect the emotions of those around her through her cooking. They cry at her lover’s wedding, for instance, because, forced to bake the wedding cake, Tita herself feels deep sorrow.

The residents of Burlington are quite familiar with chocolate’s abilities to transform and elate, according to Ludtke. “When Nestlé makes their Nesquik it smells like you’re right there, no matter where you are in town,” she explained. “It’s fabulous. When the wind is coming from the south, it’s just to die for. If you’re going to have air pollution, that’s the kind you want.”

Title: “Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry & Chocolate)” (1994)
Saucy: “I knew he was homosexual because they had chocolate ice cream, and yet he ordered strawberry.” The first Cuban film to be nominated for a foreign-language Oscar, “Strawberry & Chocolate” centers on Diego, a sophisticated gay man, and his love for David, a young student caught up with communist ideals.
The Facts: Chocolate has long been associated with romance, and there is some research that contends that, because it releases serotonin, chocolate can be used as a mild aphrodisiac. But there’s no need to have just the chocolate. “Other than every day, my favorite way to have chocolate is with strawberries,” Ludtke said.

Title: “Chocolat” (2000)
Mrs. Goodbar: Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actress (Juliette Binoche), Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench) and Best Picture, “Chocolat” centers on Vianne, a single mother who moves to a rural French town during Lent and changes the lives of the villagers through magical chocolatiering.
The Facts: Chocolatiering is big business these days. See’s Candies is well known for being one of the first businesses bought by Warren Buffett, the second-richest man in the world, for his company, Berkshire Hathaway. “If somebody offered us twice what See’s Candies is worth, I’ve got no interest in selling,” the billionaire investor told CNBC. “Three times — no interest.”

Title: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005)
The Junior Mint: Tim Burton’s remake of the 1971 classic bookends our list of chocolate movies. Starring Johnny Depp as the amazing Willy Wonka, Burton’s film utilized state-of-the-art special effects in realizing author Roald Dahl’s surreal vision. Especially noteworthy was Burton’s use of one actor, Deep Roy, to portray all the Oompa Loompas. Roy’s actions were not duplicated — each Oompa Loompa is an individual performance that was then digitally compiled.
The Facts: Oompa Loompas are said to work for cocoa beans. Since Nestlé hasn’t offered tours of its plant for some time, Ludtke joked, “They [could have] Oompa Loompas, we’re really not sure.”

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