Birthday season is upon us here. Seven weekends in a row we have parties to attend, with our little girl’s right in the middle. At the end of last year, around the time that Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox came out, we got a CD audiobook of Roald Dahl reading the story himself and Dulcie was transfixed. This led to Roald Dahl’s Phizz-whizzing Audio Collection CD set for Christmas, and from there she fell in love with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Imagine her delight when two weeks later the 1971 film version came on the TV. Sure, the film has its faults, but you can’t deny the spectacle of the children’s first view of the magical chocolate room (which apparently was the child actors’ first view of it too). Once again, Dulcie was spellbound, and so the theme for her party had to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
With the theme decided upon, we set about going completely over the top with the party. Here’s how we did it, the ‘why’ we’re not so sure about…
1. The source material
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has plenty of opportunity for creating lots of great games for the guests to play with and decorations for them to marvel at. And not only is there the fabulous source material of the Roald Dahl book, but also two Hollywood adaptions to be inspired by – the original with Gene Wilder and Tim Burton’s 2005 remake with Johnny Depp.
2. The invitations
It had to be golden tickets. Searching the Internet provided us with all the source material needed to create not just the golden ticket, but also the chocolate bar wrapper. So I spent a couple of evenings at the computer putting them together and then another cutting them out and assembling them, constantly paranoid that I’d forget to put a ticket in one of them.
3. Make your own decorations
Hours were spent creating lollipops, sweets, giant chocolate buttons and candy canes from colored card, cutting and sticking them together. It was great fun and the birthday girl enjoyed helping out with this part, but she really loved helping to make the toadstool sweetie pot from papier mâché. What is more fun than ripping up bits of paper, smothering them with glue and finally, covering it with bright red paint?
I also spent weeks scouring the local charity shops (or thrift stores, as I believe they are called in the US) for interesting glass bowls, jars and goblets to hold all the sweets that had been building up around the house.
Then there’s the Lego centerpiece at the top of the page that we made and then stupidly left at home.
4. Remix some party games to fit with your theme
Musical chairs doesn’t have much to do with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but musical buttons does. Get some more brown card and cut some big circles out of it. Lay them on the floor at the party and when the music stops everyone has to stand on a button. The ones who can’t find a button are out – but make sure they get a consolation prize or there’ll be tears. Now ‘eat’ a few buttons and start the music again. You’ll probably find that the kids start to dance on the buttons rather than around them, so now’s the time for the tickle monster to start chasing them around.
Instead of a piñata, we went to the juicing room to squeeze the sweet juice out of Violet Beauregarde. In reality this involved putting little bags of sweets inside blue balloons before blowing them up and sticking them to a cardboard cut out of the gum-chewing Miss Beauregarde. Much hilarity ensued as the balloons were popped.
Then there was the Oompa-loompa cut out for the kids to poke their heads through. Our plan was to get a photo of them all and print them off as Thank You cards, but for some reason not all the kids would play ball – the birthday girl included. Now I have to get Photoshopping again.
5. Get into character by renting or buying a costume
A quick search turned up this ‘Chocolate Man‘ outfit, which was duly purchased by the good wife, safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t be the one wearing it. There are also costumes from the Tim Burton film available too.
Oh, and make sure you don’t try it on until 5 minutes before the party starts, otherwise you’ll know beforehand that the high quality waistcoat/shirt/tie combo wouldn’t fit an Oompa-Loompa and you’d miss out on that sprint back home to dig out one of your own shirts.
6. Invite too many people
When asked who she would like to come to her party, Dulcie reeled off a list of about 20 friends. Add to that Grandparents, aunts/uncles/cousins plus your friends and neighbors and that hall you hired suddenly seems quite small. Now make sure you order in more food than you need, so you’ve got enough junk food around the house to last for weeks.
And of course this last bit goes double for this party as the majority of the ‘food’ we had was chocolate or sugar based. The local dentists will see a spike in traffic soon.
7. Party bags
We didn’t want to give our guests the same old tat in their goody bags – cheap yoyos, crayons that don’t work, pencils with leads that disintegrate on contact with paper and tons of plastic rubbish destined to end up in landfill somewhere for the next 100 years.
So, keeping with our theme, we found a job lot of mini gumball machines and took out all the bubblegum as it’s not really appropriate for 4 year olds – Grandad, on the other hand, now has a lifetime supply! The gumball machines were then refilled with Smarties and candy-themed stickers – hopefully they’ll be reused over and over.
8. The cake
Of course, you could pay a professional baker to do this for you, but surely you can manage to fit it in in the few spare hours before the party begins can’t you? Make sure you have a particularly difficult design in your head before you start and get the little one to help out too, just so the kitchen ends up in a complete mess as well. Augustus Gloop cookies were a winner too – gingerbread dipped in chocolate – especially successful as they were all decapitated en route to the party.
9. Get some party gadgets in to go with your theme
The obvious one for us was a chocolate fountain, so we got one off eBay with the intention of selling it on again after the party. I also found a candy floss machine in a charity shop and couldn’t resist buying that too.
Both of them, however, remained in their boxes for the duration of the party as there was no time at all to set them up after the all the decorating was done! So we’ll never know how much fun they could have been. Or how much mess they would have created.
10. Don’t forget the music
Our venue was completely devoid of any A/V equipment, so we had to go old school and actually burn a couple of CDs for the boombox. A quick crowd-sourcing tweet call out for ‘sugar, candy or chocolate’ themed songs, combined with the best of the two movie soundtracks gave us enough music to last the duration, even after weeding out the inappropriate euphemisms of the likes of 50 Cent.
Personal favourites: ‘She’s Like Candy’ by Cameo, ‘Candy Girl’ by New Edition and ‘I Want Candy’ by Bow Wow Wow.
Added bonus: now all the Oompa-Loompa songs are on permanent rotation in iTunes and Dulcie loves singing along to them, although she is now showing worrying Veruca Salt tendencies.
So there you have it, how to go over the top in 10 easy steps. Hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as we enjoyed doing it, however stressful in may have been.
And did we mention the candy-themed rainbow-swirled balloons that never even got blown up?
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