WES Anderson and Roald Dahl really are a marriage made in heaven — a marriage filled with whimsy, beguiling visuals, and gloriously humdrum vignettes about ordinary people in fantastical situations.
Like Anderson’s 2009 stop-motion animated adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox, the four lesser-known Dahl short films just released on Netflix — The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The Swan, The Rat Catcher, and Poison – are brought to life, this time, in a theatrical and exquisitely droll reimagining.
Short, sweet, and always enchanting, the films, best savoured in one sitting, all share a similar Anderson aesthetic with rich pastel colours, bountiful metaphors, and absurd yet tediously everyday settings and encounters.
And of course, as always, the shorts feature a revolving band of actors that turn up in different parts throughout. The ensemble cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Rupert Friend, Dev Patel, and Richard Ayoade.
Dahl’s snug writing shed is wonderfully recreated as the jumping off point for these shorts with Fiennes as the popular children’s author, narrating the first of these beautiful tales in a composed and candid manner.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, the longest of the four shorts with a 39-minute runtime, is a much-loved Roald Dahl short story about a rich man (Cumberbatch) who learns about a guru (Kingsley) who can see without using his eyes, who then sets out to master the skill in order to cheat at gambling.
The Swan, just 17 minutes long, is a young adult Roald Dahl short story about a small, brilliant boy ruthlessly pursued by two large, idiotic bullies.
A lesser-known Dahl short story, The Rat Catcher is about a professional rodent exterminator. Fiennes appears to be in his element here as ‘Rat Man’, a character with all the conniving and rodent-like cunning of Fagin from Oliver Twist.
Poison (also 17 minutes long), a well-known Dahl short story about a man who discovers a poisonous snake asleep in his bed, brings Anderson’s bedtime stories to a gripping and memorable conclusion in his own inimitable style.