(Dir. Costa Botes, 2011)
The best documentaries teach you something surprising about a subject that you’ve lived with a long time. In this exemplary doc, the subject here is Jelly Bellys – the jelly bean candies that come in a large assortment of flavors.
It has been well documented that President Ronald Reagan was a fan of Jelly Bellys (a facet which is nicely covered in this doc), but what’s not as well known that over 30 years ago, the inventor of the gourmet candy, the Los Angeles based businessman/sweets tycoon wannabe David Klein, sold the trademark, in an extremely questionable deal, just before it hit the big time.
Klein: “I regret the day I came up with them I really do…because it’s ruined my life.”
Klein’s story is told here by the man himself, his son Bert who narrates the bulk of the picture, as well as through a colorful array of photos, clips of Klein in the guise of “Mr. Gumdrop” or "Mr. Jelly Belly" hawking the product on shows like “The Mike Douglas Show”, and insightful interviews with family and colleagues (another celebrity fan of the candy – ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic even appears to put in his two cents).
Jelly Bellys took a while to take off (Klein: “I literally couldn’t give it away”) mainly because they were expensive ($3.50 a pound), but they, of course, were eventually embraced as the “first choice candy for the disco generation.”
Klein arguably revolutionized the candy industry, so it’s a sad turn of events that leaves him with no stake in the incredibly popular product he created.
It’s even sadder because of Klein’s lovably quirky manner (he would buy 100 balloons to individually hand out to kids when visiting Disneyland) and his insanely inventive ideas – after losing Jelly Bellys he created scores of candy (albeit well less successful) like “Gourmet Gumdrops”, “Triple Dipple” (3 flavored Candy Corn), “Candy Snot” (yes, some of these are disgusting), and “I Can’t Believe It’s So Sour” (the first sour flavored liquorish candy).
Obviously none of these were as successful as Jelly Bellys.
Klein’s son Bert, who became a successful animator for Disney, does a great job of relating this fascinating story of an American dream gone sour (sorry). That his father overcame depression (though some bitterness is evident in some of his sound-bites here) and still perseveres making candy (such as his daughter’s Roxanne’s “Sandy Candy”) is inspiring and terrifically touching.
You’ll never look at a Jelly Belly the same way again.
Special Features: 2 Commentaries with director Costa Botes on one, Bert & David Klein on the other, over 25 minutes of deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.