For several years, a persistent rumor about the classic 1971 movie “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” has claimed that the chocolate river in the film was made out of real chocolate and cream. A 2016 story in lifestyle magazine Good Housekeeping read:
The chocolate river was made from 150,000 gallons of water, real chocolate, and cream.
How else do you think they got that rich and creamy texture? But since it was made from real food, it began to spoil over time and smelled terrible by the time the movie wrapped. If you want to experience the closest thing to the chocolate river in real life, there’s a giant chocolate fountain at a Willy Wonka-styled theme park in Beijing, China.
There was no cream or real chocolate in the so-called “river,” as the child actors and director described in an interview and a book about the making of the film, although powder used to make ice cream was added to the water.
In a 2021 interview, a number of the former child actors who were part of the film discussed the “chocolate river” with Polygon. Michael Bollner and Julie Dawn Cole, who played Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt, respectively, described the river in detail:
Bollner: It was actually not chocolate. It was terribly cold. It was stinky water! And it was all day long, jumping in and jumping out, and being around with wet clothes.
Cole: Michael had to fall into this disgusting stuff that had been sitting there for three weeks. It had the lights on it, and people were emptying their coffee cup dregs into it.
Mel Stuart, the film’s director, discussed the “river” in his 2002 book, “Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” He wrote (emphasis ours):
Then came the hard part—creating the chocolate river itself. The ingredients for the river turned out to be an improvised mixture. Hank [Wynands, the construction coordinator] started with a hundred and fifty thousand gallons of water and buckets of the powder that is used to make chocolate ice cream. However, two problems arose — smell and bubbles. Because the river would be at rest for many hours during the day and night, a sour odor arose from the water and permeated the entire soundstage. Hank found that a combination of salt conditioner and some chemicals took care of that problem. The waterfall caused a more serious dilemma. As the water from the falls hit the river, it created a foaming effect that caused the rest of the water to turn white. To solve this problem, Hank had to fly to Hamburg to buy a special chemical that was used to control the foaming element in shampoos. The stuff was so potent that he only needed two cups of the material to return the river to its natural brown color. The resulting river looked great, but it felt like what it was: cold, dirty water.
Bollner described being scared as he fell into the “river” because it was “just 10 centimeters deep. And there was a hole about a square meter that I had to hit. So I was very scared that I would not hit the square meter, and would punch my head in the ground of the chocolate river.”
The film itself went on to become a cult classic and one of actor Gene Wilder’s most-beloved films.
“Hendrik Wynands | Art Department, Additional Crew.” IMDb, Accessed 5 Feb. 2024.
Hill, Libby. “Hollywood Mourns the Loss of Comedy Legend Gene Wilder.” Los Angeles Times, 29 Aug. 2016, 5 Feb. 2023.
Ibrahim, Nur. “Jeremy Allen White and Gene Wilder Are Related?” Snopes, 8 Oct. 2023, 5 Feb. 2023.
“Interesting Facts About Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – Willy Wonka Trivia.” Good Housekeeping, 29 June 2023, 5 Feb. 2023.
Patches, Matt. “Willy Wonka’s Gross Chocolate River Scene: A Mini Oral History.” Polygon, 29 June 2021, 5 Feb. 2023.
Stuart, Mel, and Josh Young. “Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Macmillan, 2002. Accessed 5 Feb. 2023.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Directed by Mel Stuart, Wolper Pictures, 1971. Accessed 5 Feb. 2023.