Wes Anderson brings his box of colours and quirks to Roald Dahl's beloved story, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, and oh boy, it’s a treat!
Imagine mixing Dahl’s wacky tales with Anderson’s playful style – it’s like putting extra sprinkles on your favourite ice cream.
Anderson adds his touch of fun with lovably odd characters and a world so vibrant and quirky, that you’d wish you could jump right in.
Boasting an all-star cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel and Richard Ayoade, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar really is a feast for the eyes.
What Is The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar About?
Before we delve into what the film is about, you should know that rather than feel compelled to drag out the story far longer than necessary, Wes Anderson took the unusual path of creating a short film. So the entire run time is little more than 35 minutes.
And what a 35 minutes it is! Created to look like a stage play, Ralph Fiennes opens the film as Roald Dahl. Speaking directly to us, he goes through the process of who Henry Sugar is before passing the mantle to Benedict Cumberbatch.
He picks up the story by telling us how he found an obscure book that gave a doctor's account of an Indian man who could see without the use of his eyes.
As that part unfolds, Dev Patel takes over as Dr. Chatterjee, a doctor who bore witness to Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley) being able to see while having his eyes bandaged.
Kingsley then takes over and in great detail explains how he came about having this extraordinary skill.
And so we transition back to Henry Sugar as he decides that this ability could make him even richer than he already is.
So can he do it? And what will he do with his newfound power if he does?
Watch the brilliant The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar to find out.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar Netflix Official Trailer
Is The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar Worth Watching?
As a child, I practically devoured every single Roald Dahl book that I could put my hands on. He was by far, my favourite author and whatever he was like in his private life, there is no doubt that he could, and still can, transport children to fantastical worlds they couldn't even dream of.
Now, more than 45 years after he wrote The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (1977), another master storyteller, Wes Anderson, has done the almost impossible and created the perfect tribute to this little-known short story.
Having already recreated Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) using stop-motion animation, Anderson has opted for a completely different style of filming this time around.
In fact, it's such a unique proposition that I don't think it has ever been used before. Through a 1930s aesthetic, and using the medium of a stage production, you, the viewer are actually being told a story. You're not simply watching one unfold, as the characters don't just break the fourth wall, they demolish it completely.
The performances are amazing with some of the dialogue simply mindblowing in terms of speed and detail and all filmed in what looks like one take with no scene breaks.
Anderson and Dahl have created a world that is simply begging to be visited. And while it may not look like previous Anderson productions, it oozes all of the quirkiness, charm, awkwardness and creativity that we've come to expect from him.
It is painstakingly perfect, visually stunning and choreographed to within an inch of its life. It is a masterclass in how to create a short film that could rival a Hollywood blockbuster and I loved it.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar Cast
In a cool twist, each actor takes on multiple roles in Wes Anderson's short film, giving each an opportunity to flex their skills – as if we didn't know how good they were already!
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Courier) as Henry Sugar / Max Engelman
Ralph Fiennes as Roald Dahl / The Policeman
Dev Patel (David Copperfield) as Dr. Chatterjee / John Winston
Ben Kingsley as Imdad Khan / The Dealer
Richard Ayoade as Dr. Marshall / The Great Yogi
And yes, that is Jarvis Cocker from the British band, Pulp, who cameos as a casino receptionist and several friends of Henry Sugar.
In addition to the 35 minute The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar adaptation, Anderson plucks three other Roald Dahl short stories for his pastel coloured ‘play within a film’ staging. Following Sugar is The Swan.
The principal cast return but switch up their roles, with Rupert Friend taking up the job of on-screen narrator.
As with the other following short stories, The Swan is only 16 minutes long but if you think such a short period would constrain Anderson’s approach you’d be sorely mistaken.
The Swan, more than any of the rest, is a tightly compact story about two bullies with a gun who set about young boy Peter Watson and make him do their increasingly dangerous bidding.
The ‘play’ structure is strong. Many scenes are framed by wall high reeds on either side and with obvious stage hands popping out to deliver props and assistance.
Friend takes on most of the characters himself with a raconteur style that hooks you in, including a thrillingly tense section whilst tied to train tracks.
It’s a wonderfully told and presented story that culminates in an otherworldly peak after soundly mocking the stupidity of bullies.
The Rat Catcher
Next is The Rat Catcher and Richard Ayoade’s turn to deliver the story.
A simple tale of an extremely rat-like rat catcher (Ralph Fiennes) entraps you with all manner of production delights.
A touch of animation here, a slow ‘sewer zoom’ shot there, and all the while Ralph Fiennes sinking his little yellow teeth into the role.
The story is secondary to the rodent like character of the Catcher, culminating in his ‘think like a rat’ philosophy taken to the logical extreme when otherwise thwarted.
As always, every single shot Anderson frames is like a painting, with not a pixel of screen real estate wasted.
Lastly, it is Dev Patel’s turn to rapid fire the story to camera in a tale set during the British rule of India.
Harry (Cumberbatch) is frozen in bed, urgently whispering that a deadly snake is under the covers. Patel quickly fetches a doctor (Kingsley) with anti venom, as they attempt to deal with the snake.
In this one sets are lifted and shifted around the prone figure of Harry. It’s fun to see the wheels of the machine at work, but of course such an approach also drives home how prone Harry is: even the walls must be lifted around him.
Very noticeable shifts in lighting illuminate faces or swing them into shadow. As with the other shorts the lighting often acts as punctuation, to shift from one paragraph into the next.
Here the lighting further accentuates the spoken words of Patel’s wide-eyed delivery.
Taken as a whole, Poison is rather a downer to end on, with a punchy afterword of ingratitude and racism.
There is no ‘right’ order to watch Anderson’s shorts, although if you don’t start with Henry Sugar then Ralph Fiennes’ occasional appearances as Roald Dahl himself (from within his famous writing shed) may be confusing.
However you chose to watch, Anderson and Dahl are perfect together. The format of reading the story word for word combined with Anderson’s hugely interesting visuals make for a story telling experience like no other!
Words for The Swan, The Rat Catcher, and Poison by Mike Record
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