For his second cinematic marvel of 2023, director Wes Anderson once again works his magic with the source material – Roald Dahl’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” While Dahl’s story may seem like a children’s tale on the surface, Anderson weaves an intricate narrative that delves into adult complexities and sardonic ironies.
Netflix Debut Under Duress
“Henry Sugar” marks Anderson’s first venture with Netflix, a project he initially resisted due to conflicting interests. As Anderson yearned to bring this story to life, Dahl’s estate sealed a lucrative deal with the streaming giant. Despite these challenges, Anderson crafts a nearly 40-minute masterpiece, primarily using the boxy Academy ratio but with intriguing deviations.
Live-Action Cast in a Stop-Motion World
In a departure from his usual style, Anderson assembles a cast of live-action actors to inhabit this fantastical stop-motion world. Led by the talented Ralph Fiennes, who embodies a version of Dahl himself, the film kicks off in an Andersonian reimagining of the writer’s own “writing hut.”
A World Within Meticulous Sets
Dahl’s original narrative spans the globe, presenting the potential for a grand, multi-location film. However, Anderson’s genius lies in restricting the action to meticulously crafted sets. These sets evoke the work of Karel Zeman, a Czech filmmaker known for blending live-action actors with animated backgrounds. The characters break the fourth wall, serving as narrators and participants, all while delivering their lines with rapid pace and subtle finesse.
Preserving Dahl’s Wit
While the script largely comprises Dahl’s words, Anderson skillfully condenses the original story while preserving its dry wit. Dahl’s description of the enigmatic title character is a prime example: “Men like Henry Sugar are to be found drifting like seaweed all over the world… They are not particularly bad men, but they are not good men either. They are of no particular importance; they’re simply part of the decoration.”
A Meta-Narrative Unfolds
“Henry Sugar” unfolds as a meta-narrative, leaving the audience to question its authenticity. The character of Henry, portrayed with impeccable precision by Benedict Cumberbatch, embarks on a transformative journey triggered by a slim volume he discovers in a friend’s library. This book explores a man’s ability to see without eyes, portrayed by the talented Ben Kingsley, with supporting roles from Dev Patel and Richard Ayoade.
A Journey of Spiritual Growth
Henry’s fascination lies in the man’s ability to see through downturned playing cards, a skill he wishes to master as a gambler. His journey takes him down a path of spiritual growth, a transformation that, surprisingly, is gentle given Dahl’s penchant for darker tales.
Form and Content in Harmonious Blend
Anderson’s “Henry Sugar” masterfully blends form and content. His direction transcends mere eccentricity, achieving a beautifully centered presentation that elevates the narrative to new heights. The film, presented in a jewel-box style, delivers a spiritual parable that captivates and enchants, reminding us that even the most fantastical stories can touch our hearts.
A Touch of Whimsy that Lingers
In “Henry Sugar,” Anderson demonstrates his creative genius, offering a film that seamlessly combines humor, depth, and a dash of magic. Long after the credits roll, “Henry Sugar” leaves the audience with a sense of wonder and delight, a testament to Anderson’s ability to create cinematic enchantment.