In his latest project, Wes Anderson transforms four Roald Dahl stories into four new short films, each bespoke with his signature style.
In order to bring Dahl's words to the silver screen, Anderson employs a creative narration device, having his actors deliver dialogue like they’re reading Dahl’s work straight to the audience.
Audiences should watch “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” first to become acclimated to Anderson's distinct direction.
“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”
“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” follows the wealthy entrepreneur Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch) who reads about a man who could see without his eyes, Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley), and decides to develop this ability himself.
The storytelling is masterfully paced, and the transitions between different plotlines are seamless, creating a sense of unity in what could have been disjointed stories.
What’s especially impressive with this film is the set design. For example, there are instances where two characters are supposed to be floating above the ground, and instead of using CGI, Anderson had his set designers paint a physical block beneath them to create a levitation illusion.
Using practical effects for moments like these showcases Anderson’s commitment to visual artistry and his keen attention to detail, apparent throughout all four films.
“The Swan” follows a story about a young Dahl being brutally forced into near-death and violent situations.
The way the story is told feels like a one-take camera shot as the narrator, an older Dahl (Rupert Friend), delivers memorized dialogue as if he’s just reading a book — it might even be helpful for some viewers to have subtitles due to how fast Friend speaks.
Being a stronger film of the four, “The Swan” resembles and more so represents the story of “The Ugly Duckling.” But who knows if this comparison is due to the film's title or if it’s because viewers are able to see Dahl blossom into a young man within the film's 17-minute runtime.
“The Rat Catcher”
“The Rat Catcher” follows a rat-like exterminator, the Rat Man (Ralph Fiennes), who feels the need to prove himself. This film's 17 minutes are creepy yet intriguing to the point where the viewers’ eyes won’t be able to look away.
The Rat Man lives up to his title, with his appearance, movement and speech pattern heavily imitating that of a rat.
The way this short film’s narrator (Richard Ayoade) speaks about the Rat Man is how anyone would react to this exterminator’s way of business: disgusted but wanting to know more.
As the film progresses, more is revealed about the Rat Man, showing the lengths someone will go to prove themselves to be what they say.
The ending of this film is facetious in a twisted way, implying the reason the Rat Man needed to go to such extreme lengths was due to insecurity about rats not eating his poison — a darkly funny detail in line with the tone of Anderson's previous projects.
“Poison” follows Harry (Benedict Cumberbatch) who finds a krait snake in his bed — evidently, this might’ve been the only film that felt like nothing really happened.
What the film does feature is an intense amount of tension, stemming from the presence of the snake and Harry's fears. While the film feels lackluster in the plot, the acting is as good as it comes, and it still feels like a quirky Anderson film, making it an enjoyable watch overall.
Each short film in this Dahl-inspired series shows Anderson’s skill in weaving a rich narrative within a limited time frame. It's a testament to the talent of both the cast and the crew and leaves viewers wanting Anderson to explore even more of the author's stories.