Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
This week’s question comes from film editor A.A. Dowd:
What’s your favorite use of candy in pop culture?
Mine’s a bit of a cop-out, but I loved every second of the candy world setting of Sugar Rush in Wreck-It Ralph. The details in that were so spot-on from the peppermints stuck in Vannelope Von Schweetz’s hair to the way Ralph used Mentos stalactites to cause a cola volcano. It made me crave all sorts of candy something fierce, and moreover, to think about the different ways candy could be used. I left that movie thinking about making picture frames with Twizzlers and digging out the centers of my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to make fake eyeglasses that made my husband laugh, all of which was very fun. And isn’t that the point of candy anyway?
I have always been fascinated by anything that promises to be “everything,” which is why Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from Harry Potter have always intrigued me. The idea that you could be just as likely to get an earwax jellybean as, say, an orange cream one is exciting, and while there are pale imitations that exist in our reality, the seemingly magical ones that could be literally any flavor are what I’d want to binge on after a night of magical trick-or-treating. (Also, are the jellybeans’ flavors determined at some sort of magical factory, or are they not set until the person who’s going to eat said bean picks it up, like some sort of Schrödinger’s Jellybean? These are important questions to ask.)
Parks And Recreation doesn’t hurt for dialogue that’s ripe to run through the Internet regurgitation machine, and guest Jonathan Banks provided just such a quote when he glared into Amy Poehler’s eyes (and past her vase of Red Vines) and snarled, “We’re a Twizzlers family.” The way that line pinged across GIFs and image macros after season five’s “Ben’s Parents” speaks to its versatility and its air-tight construction, signs of the spectacular manner in which Parks And Rec handles one of its core themes: Give them a chance, and people will find the stupidest reasons to cloister themselves from other groups of people. Be it government spending or waxy strings of fruit-flavored high fructose corn syrup, nothing is too petty to separate “us” from “them.” That Parks And Recreation homes in on this aspect of human nature so acutely makes the show one of the sharpest TV comedies of the last decade; that it never lets life’s various Red Vines-versus-Twizzlers debates sandbag its attempts to bridge those differences bolster the show’s must-watch status, even in its sunset years.
I’ve never wanted to eat any candy onscreen except for the sweets in the 2000 film Chocolat, a flawed and sentimental romance about how chocolate can save humanity, or something. In the film, chocolate is positioned as a gateway to sensuality, and the film focuses on how many of the women in this small French village need that freedom and independence. But what really struck me about the film was the richness and decadence of the desserts—spiced hot cocoa, rich chocolate cakes, and little bite-size snacks the shape of almonds. I wanted to eat the whole bakery, the entire movie, and most of France by the time it was over. Johnny Depp playing a migrant wanderer was just an added bonus.
More than once candy proved to be an important plot device on Seinfeld: One episode ruminated on the weirdness of people eating Snickers bars with a fork and knife, while another found Jerry and Kramer accidentally dropping a Junior Mint into the exposed innards of a surgery patient. But my favorite candy cameo on the series came from the wildly uneven final season, and specifically from the episode set entirely at a car dealership. There, a famished George attempts to purchase a Twix bar, but is thwarted by a rumpled dollar, a malfunctioning vending machine, a lying mechanic, and eventually the whole dealership staff, who consume his carefully constructed “candy lineup.” By this point in the show’s run, Jason Alexander had transformed George into something of a bellowing lunatic, and “The Dealership” certainly overplays his volcanic frustration. But his dilemma here, which hinges on ownership of a candy bar he never physically possessed, is vintage Seinfeld—a misguided crusade sparked by one of the many little frustrations of life. Also, I’ve always found the way the woman yells “Free candy” in that last scene to be bafflingly hilarious.
Has any place ever looked more delightful than the “Land Of Chocolate” in Homer’s daydream from the season-three classic “Burns Verkaufen Der Kraftwerk”? It’s a wonderful, magical place where you can prance with chocolate bunny rabbits, and it rains chocolate chips! The lampposts are made of delicious chocolate, as are the stray dogs! And the chocolate at Ye Olde Chocolate Shoppe is only half-price! Everything looks delicious. The scene is such a part of Simpsons history that “Land Of Chocolate” was a level in The Simpsons Game in 2007.
There’s product placement, and there’s the Baby Ruth in Caddyshack. In one of the funniest scenes of a movie comprising almost nothing, but Bill Murray’s character, the damaged groundskeeper Carl Spackler, dons a HAZMAT suit to scrub the pool of the country club where he works. The reason: In the prior scene, a wayward Baby Ruth bar makes its way into the pool, leading swimmers to believe it’s something that has exited a human gastrointestinal tract rather than something intended to enter it. A panicked exodus ensues, complete with Jaws-parodying music. But it’s Murray’s nonchalant response to finding the candy bar at the bottom of the drained pool—he picks it up, sniffs it, and eats it—that not only causes an elderly bystander to faint, but likely Baby Ruth’s board of directors.
When I think of places I would have loved to live in as a child, my sweet tooth immediately pulls me in the direction of Adventure Time’s Candy Kingdom, a brightly colored, completely edible city built on a river of nuclear waste. One of the first locations introduced in Pendleton Ward’s cartoon, the Candy Kingdom is ruled by Princess Bubblegum, mad genius and occasional love interest for Finn The Human, and includes citizens like the devilish Peppermint Butler, foolish Cinnamon Bun, and Starchy the chocolate malt ball and gravedigger. The kingdom is protected by two giant gumball machines called Gumball Guardians as well as a squad of Banana Guards, who are there to prevent people like Susan Strong from gorging on the anthropomorphic sweets. The setting showcases the series’ fantastic design sense, and each visit to the Candy Kingdom reveals new characters based around the delicious treats kids crave and adults try to avoid.
In Roald Dahl’s original novel Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, the titular hero’s main accomplishment is not being an asshole. There’s never any question that he’s the most deserving Golden Ticket holder, as his fellow factory tour-goers are a rotten bunch, cloying, selfish, and fully deserving of their macabre and delightful fates. And yet, protagonist-wise, Charlie Bucket’s journey is a wash—he’s poor, he shows up, he doesn’t do anything stupid, and in the end, he wins Willy Wonka’s secret grand prize through attrition alone. The 1971 movie adaptation Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, changed things up by adding a subplot about corporate espionage and greed, solely to give Charlie a chance to prove once and for all that he’s worthy of a genial madman’s kingdom. When Wonka tells the boy and his grandfather that they’ve been rendered ineligible for a lifetime of free chocolate, Grandpa Bucket urges his grandson to deliver one of Wonka’s prize inventions, the Everlasting Gobstopper, to the candy maker’s enemies. Charlie refuses, leaving the candy (which he’s been sucking on all movie, so, ew) on Wonka’s desk, proving once and for all that his decency is more than just knowing when to keep his mouth shut. In a story full of sugar, it’s easily the sweetest moment.
Annabella Lwin was only 13 when she started recording with her Svengali, Malcolm McLaren, and the former Ants he assigned as backup after christening them Bow Wow Wow. In those more innocent days—ah, the ’80s!—there was a snarky challenge built into the band’s “sexy” image; if you saw this underage girl prancing about onstage singing about her love for Almond Joys and thought there was something suggestive about it, what does that say about you, you dirty-minded old thing? The joke never worked better than it did on the cover of The Strangeloves’ pop confection “I Love Candy,” and the singer’s thrilling, openhearted exuberance actually makes it seem like more than a joke. Shit, maybe she really does just love Almond Joys!
Despite all the possibilities, the first thing that comes to mind is actually a brief scene from The Simpsons that, even though I can’t imagine it was intended as anything more than a throwaway gag, has stuck with me ever since. In “Bart Star,” the sixth episode of the show’s ninth season, Homer wanders into the Quik-E-Mart in search of liquid refreshment, asking Apu, “Got any of that beer that has candy floating in it? You know, Skittlebrau?” Apu offers him a blank stare, explaining, “Such a beer does not exist, sir. I think you must have dreamed it.” Undeterred, Homer shrugs and says, “Oh, well, then just give me a six-pack and a couple of bags of Skittles.” For my part, I have literally never again been able to look at a bag of Skittles without contemplating making my own batch of Homer’s dream beverage, but I’m certainly not the only person who fell in love with that moment: When The Guardian compiled a list of the show’s 10 greatest moments of its first 20 years, Skittlebrau made the cut.
The surrealist 1989 Italian comedy The Icicle Thief is more than a little uneven. The basic joke, seemingly inspired by Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose Of Cairo, is that a director is presiding over a TV broadcast of his black-and-white, miserabilist neo-realist film The Icicle Thief, a clear ringer for Vittorio De Sica’s classic Bicycle Thieves, except that the real world keeps crossing over into his film, to the point where the director has to enter the film to straighten it out himself. My favorite gag, and the one that most sticks with me 24 years later: A kid at home watches the movie on TV while idly chomping on an enormous candy bar with the brand name Big-Big. Onscreen, in the movie, a weary father and his starved-looking kid carry out their roles, but the boy keeps getting distracted by the chocolate-chomping kid watching him. Finally, he turns to his dad and starts yelling that he “wants a Big-Big.” Of course the dad has no idea what he’s talking about, and keeps pressing on in the plot, but his son’s priorities have changed: He wants some damn candy, now, and he doesn’t want to continue the movie until he gets it. A lot of the movie parodies mindless consumerism and the way TV ads interfere with the tone and art of broadcasted films, and this sequence plays directly to that point.