Wonka Gets YouTubed: Oompa Loompas Overlooked


In addition to trying to demonstrate that the largest video destination on the planet isn't just about offbeat Web shows and cute cats, YouTube is also endeavoring to show that it isn't only streaming video either. As we covered earlier this week in Google's own Contraption puzzler promoting the Nexus S Android phone, the branded channels are getting increasingly interactive. Yesterday, Wonka Chocolate leveraged its roots in Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to bring the Wonka Imagination Room to life. Claiming to be the first 360-degree interactive video experience, the branded channel on YouTube is a bit of a puzzle, a roller coaster ride, and a theme park stuffed into the usual YouTube screen frame.

The admittedly novel and absorbing experience puts the user on a rail and sends him or her down the path through several rooms that feature new Wonka products. It gets little trippy in there, which is exactly how us old Dahl fans like it. Gobs of chocolate goo come up out of holes in the floor in one memorable space, a bit of Salvador Dali meeting branded media. Wonka as a brand has an interesting shoal to navigate. Its source material was actually quite dark, satiric and downright hallucinogenic. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had a counter-cultural and anti-establishment edge to it. Even the first film with Gene Wilder's bug-eyed persona held onto some of Dahl's hostility towards modern excess. By the time we get to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, of course, the domestication of subversive themes renders the Wonka tale pretty much harmless  - much like Depp and Burton themselves.

When the Wonka legacy is turned into a purplish, faceless total abstraction from the original mainly to serve as a wrapper on a chocolate bar, then a moment of fun surrealism is about all one can hope for now. And without those non-union Ooopma Loompas, I mean what the hell is the point? Well at least we get a glimpse of them in the repurposed TV spot on the channel.

As an interactive video project, however, the Imagination Room is more of a technical than imaginative triumph. There is an optical illusion you engage with and a lot of looking around at chocolate walls. Tipping over lines of chocolate dominos seems to be the most interesting bit of interactivity. If it is meant to embody a relatively bland and inoffensive candy brand then I guess it succeeds. I am left in the end wondering what this brand really is and whether some nifty chocolate waterfall animations convinced me in the least that this chocolate bar is in any substantial way different from any other.    
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