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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

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‘Like stealing candy from a baby’: A look at the failed Willy’s Chocolate Experience in Glasgow

Well, there's chocolate... and there's chocolate.

“Well, there’s chocolate, and there’s chocolate,” Timothée Chalamet sings in 2023’s “Wonka” musical based on the Ronald Dahl book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” These lyrics become strangely prophetic when considering what happened Feb. 24 in Glasgow.

Well, there’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and there’s Willy’s Chocolate Experience — an unlicensed immersive experience based on the same chocolate-covered concept. Don’t confuse the two. Only one will empty your “pock-a-lets.” 

At £35 a ticket, families were promised a magical day in a paradise of sweet treats, with live performances by Oompa-Loompas and Willy Wonka himself. The event website promised an enchanted garden, a twilight tunnel and an imagination lab as parts of a “journey filled with wondrous creations and enchanting surprises at every turn!”

Instead, families got a sparsely decorated warehouse with standalone lollipop props and underwhelming tapestry backgrounds. The sweet treats promised were a couple of jellybeans and half a glass of lemonade. The actors were handed an AI-generated gibberish script the night before, which introduced a villain to the unaffiliated Wonka franchise — an evil chocolate maker living in the walls of the factory called The Unknown. 

The Unknown was played by a 16-year-old girl from Scotland who claimed it was her “first ever paid acting job.” She dressed in a long dark cloak and wore a silver mask — and hid behind a mirror until Willy Wonka gave her the cue for her grand reveal. Many children present were reduced to tears. 

The event was shut down halfway into the day, and the Scottish police told The New York Times they arrived on the scene shortly after. Unfortunately, you can’t arrest anybody for disappointing you. 

“You can’t just phone the police because you’ve had a s*** time,” Glasgow resident Paul Black said on TikTok. “I would love to know what they said to [the police].”

Paul Connell, one of the actors who played Willy Wonka, claimed he was not paid, as of a week ago. However, the event organizers have promised to pay the actors and provide a full refund to attendees.

The House of Illuminati, a London-based event company founded in Nov. 2023, was the mastermind behind the failed event — and its unique advertising campaign. None of the promotional materials included actual photos of the event. Instead, they opted to use AI-generated illustrations to capture the magic of Willy’s Chocolate Experience.

How can I tell they’re artificially generated? Well, if you take a closer look at the posters on the website, they promote “encherining entertainment” and “pasadise of sweet teats.” A professional graphic designer wouldn’t make those kinds of spelling mistakes. 

Bystanders are unsympathetic to those who attended the event. Who would be fooled by these ads?

“All I’m saying is that, at its core, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is a story about children going to have what they think will be a fun experience and being terrorized,” TikTok user Rebecca said. “So I think that the Willy’s Chocolate Experience in Glasgow actually lived up to the energy of the book.” 

But, truly, Willy’s Chocolate Experience is alarming. 

I would say it sets a precedent for underwhelming events, but that isn’t necessarily true. It is, in some ways, a tot-sized version of 2017’s Fyre Fest failure or 2014’s Tumblr Dashcon disaster. However, Willy’s Chocolate Experience is unique because it uses AI to fool everybody. 

Artificial Intelligence will only get smarter. Media literacy and common sense will only become harder to find. Scams like Willy’s Chocolate Experience will only become more common. Born anew into the era of AI, we’re exploring uncharted waters in a world of pure imagination. Be sure not to get taken advantage of. It’s as easy as stealing candy from a baby — in the truest sense of the phrase.