Timothée Chalamet in 'Wonka'

Willy Wonka Experience Used AI To Sell Attendees a ‘Paradise,’ Then ‘Delivered a Nightmare’

People who paid to attend an immersive experience inspired by Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were shocked when they arrived at the event to discover what can only be described as a breathtaking shit show.

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If it wasn’t for the photographic evidence, I’m not sure anyone would believe this story out of Scotland. It simply checks too many boxes: cultural relevance, schadenfreude, scammers, AI, disgruntled customers, social media, irony—are we sure this story wasn’t itself generated by AI in an unusual act of benevolence? Who among us can really say?

Willy’s Chocolate Experience was produced by the London-based House of Illuminati, which used artwork obviously generated by AI to advertise a “paradise of sweets.” The website for the event promised interactive installations, including an “enchanted garden,” sculptures, a “twilight tunnel,” and “whimsical performances” from people dressed as Oompa Loompas. Tickets cost £35 (that’s $44) each, which sounds about right for this sort of thing, i.e., a trap-and-release photo opp for Instagram influencers.

A screenshot of an AI-generated advertisement for Willy's Chocolate Experience, featuring a clown, balloons, and garbled text
(Screenshot / Willy’s Chocolate Experience)

The above “artwork” was taken from the official website for the event, and includes garbled text (a telltale sign of AI) promising “catgacating,” “cartchy tuns,” and a “pasadise of sweet teats.” Reading it aloud in a crappy Scandinavian accent is actually kind of fun.

What attendees found when they arrived at the event in Glasgow was a nondescript warehouse room sparsely decorated with what I assume are props leftover from various local theatre productions. I’ve seen better craftsmanship in grade school gyms.

There was allegedly but a single Oompa Loompa, whose appearance was not that of a whimsical slave-laborer, but a woman who is deeply haunted.

Stuart Sinclair, who attended the event with his two kids, described the Willy Wonka experience as “an absolute shambles” in a Facebook post. Another user wrote that House of Illuminati “Sold a dream and delivered a nightmare.” That’s a little harsh. I mean, there was a bouncy castle.

Sinclair said that it “took 2 minutes to get through” the whole experience, after which he saw “a queue of people surrounding the guy running it” and complaining. According to Sky News, hundreds of people purchased tickets to the event, many of whom demanded a refund. Disgruntled attendees set up a Facebook group featuring even more photos from Willy’s Warehouse. A local police spokesperson confirmed that they were called to respond to the event, and “advice was given”—an absolutely unimaginable scenario in the U.S. People would have rioted and enlisted the sole Oompa Loompa to use her My First Meth Lab playset to make artisanal Molotov cocktails. That bouncy castle would not have survived the night, I can tell you that much.

House of Illuminati later posted a statement on Facebook, promising to refund every ticket and apologizing for the event. “Unfortunately, last minute we were let down in many areas of our event and tried our best to continue on and push through and now realise we probably should have canceled first thing this morning instead,” reads the post, vaguely gesturing at some unforeseen circumstance.

The whole ordeal is, as some have pointed out, extremely reminiscent of the great Tumblr convention swindle of 2014 known as “DashCon.” The event was promoted as a gathering for Tumblr users to celebrate various fandoms, but quickly fell apart when celebrity guests dropped out and the organizers failed to organize an actual event. When attendees demanded refunds, the organizers notoriously offered an “extra hour” in the ball pit—a small inflatable pool filled with plastic balls in the middle of a mostly empty warehouse. Like the Wonka experience, DashCon also had a bouncy castle.

Perhaps the biggest indication that Willy’s Chocolate Experience was a con job is the brazen fine print at the bottom of the website, which reads, “Any resemblance to any character, fictitious or living, is purely coincidental.” A work of pure imagination, if you will.

(featured image: Warner Bros.)


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Author
Britt Hayes
Britt Hayes (she/her) is an editor, writer, and recovering film critic with over a decade of experience. She has written for The A.V. Club, Birth.Movies.Death, and The Austin Chronicle, and is the former associate editor for ScreenCrush. Britt's work has also been published in Fangoria, TV Guide, and SXSWorld Magazine. She loves film, horror, exhaustively analyzing a theme, and casually dissociating. Her brain is a cursed tomb of pop culture knowledge.