Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

Wes Anderson’s Netflix short films aren’t what you’d expect, but they’re still good

Wes Anderson's short film adaptations of Roald Dahl stories are a little all over the place, but Managing Editor Luke Macy still got something out of them.
Wes Anderson's short film adaptations of Roald Dahl stories are a little all over the place, but Managing Editor Luke Macy still got something out of them.

If you know Wes Anderson only from his previous Roald Dahl adaptation, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” you won’t be prepared for his newest experiment with the author.

Anderson’s newest project is a collection adapted from several of Dahl’s works. The films, on Netflix, were released one per day starting Sept. 27 and were titled and based on the short stories “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” “The Swan,” “The Rat Catcher” and “Poison” — released in that order.

The short films rotate the same cast members in different roles. Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley and Richard Ayoade all make their Anderson debut, while Ralph Fiennes returns from “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Rupert Friend from this year’s “Asteroid City.”

Tonally, the films feel much different from Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — although they’re not too far off from some of the director’s deeper cuts — as well as Dahl’s other stories. For starters, the films feel more like plays than movies.

Each scene usually designates a narrator that goes through all the actions directly to camera. Actions narrated often won’t be shown on screen to avoid cuts for effects. Stagehands will sometimes appear on camera to move props.

This doesn’t feel unlike Anderson’s style. In fact, at times it feels too much like his style. His films are shot with few dynamic camera angles, so to go full play seems like overdoing it for such a creative filmmaker, emphasis on film.

I struggled with the constant narration and lack of action throughout the four films. I often wondered what the point was of making these films if most of the dialogue felt ripped straight from the stories and visuals were left out of the films.

Perhaps it’s harsh to compare works, but I think of other films adapted from short stories such as “Memento” and “Blade Runner,” which truly used the medium to expand narratively and visually, and I wonder why Anderson decided to adapt short stories into short films so directly. I usually prefer watching a movie over reading a book, but Anderson’s newest project just made me want to go read the short stories instead.

It’s also clear that Netflix bungled the distribution of Anderson’s short films. They all share actors, and each one has scenes with Ralph Fiennes as Roald Dahl that could easily connect them. This would have made for a nice anthology like Anderson’s 2021 film “The French Dispatch,” but now it’s four separate listings on the streaming service with no all-encompassing name.

But, despite all my complaints, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy these films. They’re still charming, and the storytelling is quite nice. The actors are clearly having fun as well, and if I could’ve seen these in a theater, the audience would have had just as much fun.

I’m happy we’ve had a year full of releases from one of our most consistently-good directors. It helps reinforce why he’s one of my favorites.

And for the “Fantastic Mr. Fox” fans, you’ll be happy to know there is a little bit of stop-motion animation in these ones, too.

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

Rating: 7/10