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Roald Dahl Meets Wes Anderson: 4 Must-Watch Short Films on Netflix!

Written by Anya Bergstrom. Published: November 02 2023
(Photo: Netflix)


FromMatilda and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory to James and the Giant Peach and The Witches, the British author Roald Dahl has been hailed as one of the signature writers among the annals of children’s book classics. A little less well known are Dahl’s short stories, which are just as rich in word-building and unique characters as his children’s stories, but aimed for an older audience. These short stories are succinct, thought-provoking morality tales that are at times quite ominous. Since Dahl’s passing away in 1990 at the age of 74, Wes Anderson is now the first to bring these few short stories to the screen. What better director than Wes Anderson to bring to life these intricately spun tales?! Much like Dahl’s style of writing, Wes Anderson’s style of camerawork and screenwriting maintains a sense of childlike wonder and surrealism. These elements are unmistakably captured in the 4 new short films that he has adapted from page to screen – "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar", "The Swan", "The Rat Catcher", and "Poison". 


Starting with "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar", the first short film of the series, we can see both Dahl and Anderson’s signature flair. The story is about a rich man who learns of the story of Imdad Kahn – a man who can see without using his eyes – and sets out to learn the secret behind his ability in order to cheat at gambling. The film opens on a narration by Roald Dahl himself (played by Ralph Fiennes). The character speaks directly to the audience, breaking the fourth wall and pulling the viewer into his story world as he lays out all of the characters. The camera then tracks Roald as he walks between sets, narrating the story and introducing new characters. We see the rich man (Benedict Cumberbatch), who begins narrating a book in the voice of Imdad Kahn (Ben Kingsley). The film reads like a play, and the blunt, fast-paced dialogue quickly builds up the story momentum, leaving no moment of dullness between interactions. 




There are many more aspects of the 4 short films that showcase what a dream team Roald Dahl and Wes Anderson can be. Roald Dahl is an expert craftsman of story endings, and Wes Anderson skillfully carries this onto the screen in a captivating manner. In "Henry Sugar", Roald Dahl proposes an alternate ending for his story’s protagonist Henry, and then quickly dismisses the cliché ending just to offer a new one, successfully subverting the audience’s expectations and keeping the story rolling. All 4 films also have a particularly entrancing mode of storytelling that immerses the viewer into the plot. In the film "The Swan", there is a particularly gripping scene where the protagonist is on the precipice of a life or death situation. Anderson’s expert use of music, extreme camera angles, and sound effects heighten the scene’s tension to a max, which he then slices neatly with a tense, heavy silence. Grand scene work like this is also executed masterfully by minimal actors. Recurring actors are used in all 4 short films, including Richard Ayoade, Dev Patel, and Rupert Friend, among several others. Certain actors even play the role of other side characters, such as Rupert Friend playing the voices of the teen bullies as well as the role of narrator in "The Swan". 



Overall, these 4 films are a must-watch. As Fall continues on, the warm color tones of the film’s visuals make it the perfect cozy, comfort watch. All 4 stories are filled with tantalizing twists and turns, interspersed with emotional monologues that are both wonderfully touching and melancholic. Except for "Henry Sugar", which is around 40 minutes along, the rest of the series is less than 20 minutes each -- the perfect short but story-rich films to watch if you’re short on time. You can find all 4 films streaming on Netflix.