Watch of the Week: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Wes Anderson’s brand of straight-faced weirdness can be an acquired taste, but the accomplished writer-director finds a hospitable outlet for his sense of whimsy in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a 39-minute adaptation of the Roald Dahl story. He also finds the right outfit to bankroll that on awards-hungry Netflix, which surely had visions of Oscar nominations when releasing it (it won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film!) dancing in its head.

Anderson previously brought his breezy touch to Dahl with the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009, and Henry Sugar is to be followed by three shorter shorts: The Swan, The Rat Catcher and Poison, each running about 17 minutes.

Like Asteroid City, Anderson’s latest too-cute movie that premiered last year before landing on streaming, and The French Dispatch before that, the director’s reputation remains a magnet for big-name talent, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character and Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, and Dev Patel fleshing out the cast.

Rather than acting and interacting, in Henry Sugar, those characters essentially take turns reading portions of Dahl’s story amid shifting pastel backdrops (the Wes Anderson trademark) that illustrate the tale, creating the effect of listening to a podcast while flipping through a lovely picture book.

The vaguely hypnotic aspect of that well serves a story without much (or really, any) meat to it. It tells how Henry Sugar mastered the art of seeing without his eyes, initially intent on using that to cheat at gambling. Yet the skill and the winnings at the local casino that go with it yield a sort of spiritual epiphany.

Henry Sugar is considered slightly more adult in tone than some of Dahl’s best-known stories – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda (which Netflix recently featured in musical form) among them.

Ultimately, the mix of marquee names, relatively bite-sized format and Netflix as a platform feels like an ideal marriage of talent, material and distribution – a better combination, frankly, than Anderson’s last few movies. Then again, when it comes to prestige directors, fans have a way of seeing with their hearts more than their eyes.

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Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.


About Author / Boluwatife Adesina

Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.

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