A confounding mix of admirable skill and disconcerting ideas carries over from author Roald Dahl’s short stories into a series of mini films directed by Wes Anderson. Millions know and love Dahl for his books that grab kids because of their youthful protagonists like Charlie in such settings as a chocolate factory Sly
undercurrents appeal to adults. But troubling forces came to light with Dahl’s own hugely public comment sagainst Israel, attitudes conflicting with any warm, fuzzy, childish notions. And in another domain, filmmaker Wes Anderson celebrates childlike wonderment in movies like Moonrise Kingdom or The Grand Budapest Hotel. Telling with images rather than words Anderson’s scripts makes him the ideal artist to adapt Dahls short stories, stories that put the simple style kids like on to sad events adults know from lives that lack happy endings. Realizing that Dahl’s writing defies typical screenwriting approaches, Anderson works with frequent collaborators like a multi-tasking Roman Coppola to Production Designer Adam Stockhausen. They create visually distinct situations through lighting and set design while costuming and Anderson’s choice of camera movements lead to projects compelling to look at no matter what the content. The same goes for Anderson’s casting choices, with his four Netflix shorts including Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Dev Petel. Compelling, yes, but often distressing; though a short called The Wonderful Life of Henry Sugar leads to some of the title’s implied sweetness, niceness from a bird like The Swan heads into darker waters, while names like Poison and The Rat Catcher give a general idea of the less-than-cheerful-paths they follow. Sad, yes, but with both Dahl and Anderson’s sharp aim at human fallibilities.