Three Wes Anderson short films, shorter than Henry Sugar.
Wes Anderson’s 40 minute take on Roald Dahl’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” turns out to be part of anthology of short films. All of them are released individually on Netflix, all of them are directed by Anderson, and all of them are based on Dahl’s stories. But they’re shorter than “Henry Sugar,” running at 17 minutes. Only one short film didn’t work for me, but if this was part of a package deal, it still would be something unique for both Anderson and Dahl fans.
Rupert Friend narrates the film as Peter Watson, who reflects on his childhood as a birdwatcher, when two bullies tied him to the railroad tracks. Not in the Nell Fenwick way, but straight on the track, when the train can just go over him. After the near-death experience, the bullies shoot a swan dead, cut off her wings, and force Peter to put them on, so they can try to shoot him off a tree. Only stage hands are background characters, while Friend uses cockney accents for the bullies, and Asa Jennings (son of “Sing” filmmaker Garth Jennings) plays the young Peter.
Its themes reflect on bullying, innocence, and youth in a small aspect. It’s often represented in Dahl’s work, and it can represented in the artistic manner of Anderson. And the art direction requires the narrator to walk around a hedge and hay mazes, while we get to see the straightness of the train track, and the sets of the pond and trees. It can be real or fake, but it still looks like Anderson art.
“The Rat Catcher”
Richard Ayoade narrates this lesser known story as a reporter, who, along with a mechanic (Friend), hears the Rat Man (Ralph Fiennes) explain his plans to exterminate the rodents of the town. His ideas seem to baffle the two listeners, especially when he has a rat and ferret (both invisible to the audience) go after each other in his shirt, and another rat, which looks like a stop-motion taxidermy creature.
The performances can be lively, especially the way Fiennes uses a cockney accent, and how he pretends to pull out rodents in his pocket. I usually would like to stick up for the little guys, but this short film didn’t really capture the delightfulness it should have. In fact, it ends up falling flat.
Set in India during the British Rule, Dev Patel narrates the film as Timber Wood, who travels to the bungalow of his friend Harry Pope (Benedict Cumberbatch). He’s still, motionless, sweaty, and frightened of the poisonous snake, the krait, being on his stomach. It’s under the sheet, and it would be a big risk to lift it and see. So, the young man has to call the doctor (Ben Kingsley) to save Harry.
The whispering and obvious dialogue in such a situation is handled quite well by the actors and filmmaker. It’s all done with precision and organization, and it’s impossible for me to imagine someone being in a life-threatening situation like this.
“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” is the best in a serious of these short films, and “The Swan” comes in second place. It probably makes sense if these are released separately on Netflix, if some people don’t like a certain cover version, like how I didn’t care for “The Rat Catcher.” But all together, it be something special especially when it has a good amount of actors like Fiennes, Cumberbatch, Kingsley, Patel, Friend, and Ayoade in the mix. And I just love how Fiennes can play the author with the right light and tone.
All Streaming Separately on Netflix
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA strike