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Antitrust for Kids—Anatomy of a Chocolate Cartel (an Antitrust Review of the movie Wonka)

 |  March 20, 2024

By: Aaron Gott (The Antitrust Attorney)

There are numerous valuable lessons one can glean from the narrative of Wonka. It serves as a testament to the power of ingenuity, determination, selflessness, and teamwork in triumphing over the challenges posed by a system favoring entrenched interests.

However, beneath its whimsical facade lies another tale—a tale of a chocolate cartel. And this subplot imparts its own set of instructive insights. Just ask my four children, who now have a clearer understanding of my daily endeavors (although I might have emphasized the chocolate-related elements a tad too much).

Indeed, the entire premise of Wonka revolves around the machinations of this dominant chocolate cartel. It’s almost as if the creative minds at Warner Bros. Pictures drew inspiration from our Antitrust for Kids series, albeit unwittingly omitting us from the credits.

For the uninitiated: Wonka essentially serves as the origin story of the Willy Wonka character featured in the 1971 film, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Timothée Chalamet portrays Wonka, who arrives in town with aspirations of owning a chocolate shop in the upscale Galeries Gourmet plaza. With only twelve silver sovereigns to his name—soon spent by the end of the first melody—he resolves to sell his chocolate on the streets the next day. A crowd gathers, catching the attention of the owners of three prominent chocolate shops, led by Paterson Joseph’s Slugworth, situated in the Galeries Gourmet.

Spoiler Alert!: Proceeding with this discussion of Wonka may contain spoilers. If you haven’t watched it yet, I recommend viewing it first, then returning to read this post.

We discover that these three chocolatiers, despite presenting themselves as fierce rivals, are actually members of a chocolate cartel that has monopolized the entire market. As soon as the enterprising Wonka attempts to sell his chocolate, the cartel springs into action to quash this competitive threat and preserve their lucrative arrangement. In the words of the cartel, “If we don’t / get on top of this / we’ll go bust / chocopocalypse! / we’ll cease to exist.”

What ensues in Wonka not only includes catchy musical numbers but also provides a detailed portrayal of the inner workings of a successful price-fixing cartel…