Fact Check: Posts Say Real Squirrels Were Trained to Crack Nuts in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' Here's What We Found

iFunny user @elite_amazing_facts_2021
iFunny user @elite_amazing_facts_2021

Claim:

Real squirrels were trained to crack nuts for Tim Burton's 2005 movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Rating:

Rating: True
Rating: True

For years, a claim has circulated online that 40 squirrels were trained to crack nuts for the 2005 movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." "Did you know? 40 real squirrels were trained to crack nuts for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory instead of using robot," a 2022 iFunny post read (archived):

(iFunny user @elite_amazing_facts_2021)

"TIL Rather than use CGI, Tim Burton had 40 squirrels trained to crack nuts for Charlie & The Chocolate Factory," one Reddit user claimed in 2017. "Did they get paid or were they just free labor?" an X user asked in 2019.

In short, because real squirrels were indeed trained to crack nuts in the 2005 Tim Burton movie, we have rated this claim as "True."

"Forty squirrels were trained to crack nuts in the new film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," BBC News wrote in July 2005, adding that even with sophisticated computer-generated technology available, Burton opted for real effects. Revealing the behind-the-scenes preparations, animal trainer Steve Vedmore, who worked on the film for eight weeks, spoke in an interview for the article:

Because of a confidentiality agreement with Warner Bros, he can't reveal exactly what happened on set but, having worked with squirrels before, he says some are easy to train and some aren't.

"The placid ones are good to handle and other ones are aggressive, so we use them as runner animals if we can run them from A to B because they're not good for human contact. They bite."

Training is based on food rewards, so the squirrels got nuts when they did what was required.

"You shape their behaviour so if you're running them from A to B - which could be 100m - you put catching boxes inches away so they run into the box and get a reward. Then you put the box further and further away."

Some worked harder than others, while some filled up on nuts very quickly and then lost interest, he says.

"For the film, the squirrels were used for 10 months, including training," the article said, adding that the "American Humane Association supervised the training to make sure no animal was made to do anything which might cause it distress."

Below you can find the scene from the movie that featured real squirrels:

A documentary short titled "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Attack of the Squirrels" offers a look at how the squirrels were trained:

This isn't the first time we've investigated a squirrel-related claim. In May 2024, we looked at social media posts reporting that a wife stabbed husband with a squirrel. In April 2017, we fact-checked a rumor that a woman was arrested for training squirrels to attack her ex-boyfriend.

Sources:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Directed by Tim Burton, Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures, The Zanuck Company, 2005.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Attack of the Squirrels. Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2005.

How Are Squirrels Trained to Act? 29 July 2005. news.bbc.co.uk, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/4702653.stm.

Special Features Archive. Attack of the Squirrels | Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 2023. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNDtqJ3pGyg.