‘Wonka’ is a thinly veiled tale of addiction

Warning: this article is a giant spoiler of the 2023 film, ‘Wonka’.

Many children’s stories are dark — see most classic fairy tales, from Cinderella to Hansel and Gretel — but they’ve been sanitized to have happy endings. Wonka is a return to the original, tragic children’s tales, but dressed up in chocolate and classic architecture.

It starts with Wonka trying to get a crowd hooked on his levitating chocolates — which have obviously not been cleared by any regulatory food safety, drug safety, or aviation agency — by giving them a taste for free. The movie seems to be set in the early 20th century, so it may have been before these kinds of agencies were created: the FDA was created in 1906.

The competing chocolate “cartel” is obviously disturbed by this highly unsafe, adulterated chocolate, not to mention the unfair business practice, but since apparently this was before the Pure Food & Drug Act, they are powerless to avail themselves of the law. So, they resort to having the police shut him down on a technicality about not having a storefront, and fine him. (The competitor is not really a cartel, because as it turns out, it’s all the same company: run by one CEO, with 3 different brands. And it looks like they do have safety controls.)

Left penniless, Wonka then gets suckered by a landlord into signing a predatory contract that binds him into indentured servitude, in part because he’s illiterate. (Which, again, goes to show how he can’t possibly be doing any rigorous quality assurance.) He then tries to steal ingredients to make his products, and so drugs a security guard with tranquilizer-laced chocolate. All of his chocolate is drug-laced chocolate, but it’s usually laced with stimulants or psychedelics, not depressants.

Wonka is also being shaken down by an addict, an Oompa Loompa who lost his job after the pharmaceutical chocolatier mistakenly took cocoa beans he was guarding, as no trespassing warnings were posted. He is now addicted to Wonka’s adulterated chocolates and steals them, justifying it as compensation, at an exorbitant 1000x rate, for the “stolen” cocoa.

Another victim of addiction is the police chief, who is addicted not to Wonka’s drugs, but to standard chocolate. (And no, he’s not a chocoholic, since there’s no ‘chocohol’ involved.) The competitor takes advantage of this and bribes him with chocolate. He becomes obese.

Since he can’t sell his drug-laced chocolate legally due to the storefront technicality, Wonka is literally forced underground, using sewers to distribute his psychedelics in a black market. He succeeds in both hooking the entire town on them and in making a lot of money in the process. With his illicit gains, he is finally able to open a storefront and brazenly sell drugs posing as desserts. But, since he has no safety protocols in place, his competition is able to easily sabotage his manufacturing process, causing customers’ hair to turn green.

In a final attempt to rid the city of Wonka’s drugs, the competing chocolatier offers to buy out the predatory loans his friends got caught up in, if he leaves town. He agrees, and they attempt to assassinate him as well, to ensure he won’t return to cause another drug epidemic. Unfortunately, he escapes and does just that. Driven by revenge, Wonka causes a diversion, gets past 500 addicted guard monks, and with the help of the addicted Oompa Loompa, steals the competitor’s chocolate supply, laces it with drugs, and pumps it into a public fountain, accessible to children.

The tragedy then ends with Wonka surveying a rural site, away from the prying eyes of the authorities, in which he can expand his operation, and eventually become the global purveyor of pharmaceuticals we know from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.