- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

Roald Dahl's 1964 book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" thrills through pure imagination, and the 1971 film based on it offers an unforgettable peek inside the world of Willy Wonka and his magical corporation of confections. Take another look into the world of Wonka through Nestle's entertaining Web site, which is filled with enough stimulation and activities to satisfy even Veruca Salt.

Willy Wonka Candy Factory

Site address: www.wonka.com


The Willy Wonka Candy Factory is owned by Nestle Confections & Snacks, a division of Nestle USA. Nestle is one of the largest candy manufacturers in the United States and a subsidiary of Nestle S.A., the world's largest food company.

Creator quotable:

"Nestle created Wonka.com to provide children, parents and teachers with a fun, safe and engaging Internet environment where they can play, learn, explore and discover together," says Tricia Bowles, spokeswoman for the Willy Wonka Candy Factory.

"It is simply a place where children can interact with and learn from the wacky and whimsical characters of the Willy Wonka Candy Factory, including the Oompa Loompas, Nerds, Runts, Gobstoppers, and even Willy Wonka himself."

Word from the Webwise:

A click on the golden ticket takes children to an animated opening screen featuring Mr. Wonka and his wild world. Our host, in his familiar purple garb and with a tip of the top hat to Gene Wilder's characterization, entices, presenting cartoony machinery, zany sounds and plenty of sparkles.

Parents should take note that between the educational activities, Nestle peppers the site with its line of candy products, Laffy Taffy, Chewy Tart Tinys, Runts, Nerds, Shock Tarts, and Everlasting Gobstoppers hoping to build a bit of product loyalty while entertaining.

The major area of exploration is in the factory, accessed by the Wonkavator. It features the sections "Planet Vermes," "Invention Room," "Loompaland," "Wonkavision Room," "Willy's Office" and "Candy Garden." Each presents a room complete with games, computer enhancements and something for youngsters to learn.

For example, the environment of the Oompa Loompa, the wisecracking elfin types who make the candy, offers three games, an animal trivia challenge and desktop icons (based on product characters) to download and use to enhance folders or files.

The games range from a plumbing nightmare in which players must connect pipes properly to keep the chocolate flowing, to a multilevel memory lesson using sounds and images to take care of virtual pet Wonkanite while playing a round of pong or matching notes he plays on a flute.

The quiz uses a cavalcade of multiple-choice questions to teach tidbits for example, that the blue whale is the largest animal ever, weighing in at 220 tons and measuring 100 feet long.

Children 15 years old and younger can register with the site (personal information is not required) under Club "W" to receive birthday greetings, a membership card and newsletter and to be entered into sweepstakes and gain access to other games.

Ease of use:

The site uses the Macromedia's Shockwave plug-in and demands that visitors explore rooms rather than rely on search engines or complicated site maps. All of the games looked great and presented a nice variety of action worthy of return visits I could spend hours playing the Tetris-like challenge Laffy Taffy Tris, found in "Willy's Office." Unfortunately, families with a slow modem connection will get annoyed fairly quickly with load times.

To counteract this, a handy feature allows mom and dad to download games directly to their computer system for play off line, which keeps children from having to wait while the site reacts.

Don't miss:

Not accessible through the Wonkavator, the "Wonka School" provides a learning area for children. Click into "Willy's Classroom" for primarily test-based lessons on the five senses, how animation works, a biography on Ben Franklin, the history of chocolate, the mystery of the ancient city Machu Picchu and a look at the Wonkamobile a vehicle roving the United States to promote literacy.

Family activity:

Fourth-graders can click on "Teacher's Office" to find a lesson plan created by Rebecca Stern, a teacher from McKay Elementary School in Chicago, to create delicious decor based on Wonka's factory. Using drawing paper, construction paper, tissue paper, colored pencils, glue, scissors and a printable sheet of Willy Wonka, the whole clan can create an imaginary room for the factory through this exercise in creativity.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Despite the merchandising message permeating the site product names and photos exist on almost every page Nestle does offer mom and dad animated buttons alerting them when advertising is going on and fully explains its intentions in its "Privacy Statement" and "Parents' Stuff" pages.

I don't think children will turn into Augustus Gloop after visiting the Wonka Candy Factory, but they may be so excited with the characters they want to read the original book.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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