Who can take a sunrise? Sprinkle it with dew. Cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two, the Candy (Wo)man can! And yes, she mixes it with love, and makes the world taste good. Well, at least the “world” she’s created in Santa Monica. We're talking about Candytopia, the pop-up attraction created by TLC’s Candy Queen star Jackie Sorkin. Sorkin, along with fellow sweets fabricator Zac Hartog, debuted the interactive experience in 2017 at L.A. Hangar Studios, and recently brought it back, this time to the Santa Monica Place mall. It was set to end mid-July but was just extended through July 22.
Much has been made of Candytopia’s “selfie-ready” backdrops. Like the Museum of Ice Cream and Happy Place, it does have several surrealistic environments suitable for posing in front of or simply shooting to your (sweet) heart's content. But what makes this treat-o-rama different is the detail seen in every installation, which patrons are encouraged to touch and feel (but not eat). It's pretty hard to capture the true splendor (Splenda?) of the creations here on film. Sculpture, candy collages and mostly decoupage with various colors, shapes and sizes of candy ranging from hard to soft, big to small, comprise the confectionary amusements. And though it's only eye candy (you can't actually munch anything) in each environment, there is free candy for the taking provided in each portion of the event, clearly a co-marketing deal with various brands ranging from Pixie Sticks to Lindt truffles. It's a yummy touch that makes the whole thing worth the $30 ticket for adults and $23 for kids.
From the gallery-like environment guests enter first, featuring great works of art such as Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Warhol faves such as his iconic Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s Soup can, all created with candy (jelly beans being the treat of choice), the candy-as-art idea is presented in a vivid, poptastic fantasy. Rounding out the "exhibit" part of Candytopia are portraits of icons such as Prince and the confectionary icon himself, Willy Wonka, as played by Gene Wilder.
Candytopia is, for all intents and purposes, Wonka’s world come to life. The holding space before entering even seems to be modeled after the famed factory. Once inside, patrons first enter a library-like room where Sorkin’s vision is explained and guests are given chocolates that literally fall from the sky. This is followed by the art gallery, then an underwater environment, then a tropical paradise and surf experience, then a mystical rainbow-swathed section with a unicorn and flying pigs, a “100” emoji-inspired swing (people sit in the zeros) and a flying confetti thing that recalls Happy Place’s colorful confetti chamber. Warning: The tiny tissue specks get everywhere and you will find them lingering, much like glitter, in your hair, purse and on your clothing for days afterward if you opt for the photo op; you sit on a round pinwheel-like platform as employees dump buckets and buckets of the paper pieces on you as it spins. Prepare to be dizzy, too.
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Though cellphones are welcome at Candytopia, free high-quality images are provided so you can enjoy it without snapping every single second (if you give them your email upon entry). Various photo ops throughout the attraction feature a camera setup. After signing up, a barcode is texted to your phone and you simply scan it to the digital picture-taker and strike your pose; the image shows up immediately in your inbox. Sweet.
Sadly, the piece de resistance experience at the end of Candytopia is the hardest to get a good shot from. It features a massive "marshmallow" pit (like the multicolored ball pits of childhood). It's really white marshmallow-shaped sponge pellets, and once you submerge yourself in them, it's extremely difficult to move around. Getting to the camera, scanning your phone and making it to the mark for the picture, taken from above, is nearly impossible, so I suggest parents just snap the kids or couples do it for each other.
As always, the whole thing ends — where else — in a gift shop, a decidedly "girly" environment with mostly pink items and products like lip glosses and coin purses. There's lots of candy for sale too, but after all the samples they give out, the carnival of potential cavities isn't quite as seductive. Candytopia will satisfy the sweet tooth and then some.
Candytopia, 395 Santa Monica Place #142, Santa Monica. Open daily through July 22. Adult admission $30; ages 4-12 $23; free under 3. Tickets must be purchased in advance at candytopia.com.