Roald Dahl’s story coming together with Wes Anderson’s style in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is a treat for anybody familiar with either of the artists. Roald Dahl’s books were mostly illustrated by Sir Quentin Saxby Blake, and those who have read them know why this was such an absolutely perfect combination. The way the writer imagined the characters through his words is exactly how they were brought to life by the illustrator, and that is part of the reason why the books are as memorable as they are. This means that we once again find ourselves in a situation where our possessiveness for the stories we like is tested by a screen adaptation. Wes Anderson was probably the best fit for a modern adaptation of Roald Dahl’s books, but we couldn’t get rid of our apprehension about whether he could capture the actual eccentricity of Roald Dahl’s visual imagination. This was not because we doubted the director but because we couldn’t accept a compromise with Roald Dahl, especially since we had already seen visuals of what the writer thought through his talented illustrator. Thankfully, we were left satisfied and smiling by the end of this 40-minute short film.
It really makes us think of the film adaptations of Roald Dahl’s books over the years and what the writer would think of them. It is a famous story that the first time one of his books, The Witches, was made into a film, Roald Dahl told everyone that they should not watch it because the ending was different. People who have read the book know that the story could use an alternative ending, but we don’t find it in ourselves to question the motive of a writer for the way he chooses to shape his story. What we mean is that Roald Dahl was possessive about his work, and we don’t doubt that he would wholeheartedly agree with Wes Anderson’s adaptation of it because of how true to style it is for both of them. This certainly beats the recent adaptation of The Witches, where Anne Hathaway might have been admirable as the Grand High Witch, but we know Roald Dahl would disagree.
We cannot even begin to imagine how furious the author would be if he sees Timothe Chalamet attempting to expand his Chocolate Factory universe with the prequel titled Wonka. Why not go with the Chocolate Factory sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, which is one of the author’s works and actually gives us a bit of Willy Wonka’s backstory? While we dread watching Hugh Grant be an oompa loompa, Benedict Cumberbatch as Henry Sugar has given us life. Since Roald Dahl describes Henry Sugar as ‘not very handsome,’ we suppose someone in the casting department ignored that bit and let their fondness for the actor take over and brought him on board. Nevertheless, we approve.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is a simple tale of a man who fell in love with a story and dedicated his life to it by expanding on its possibilities. If you spend any time on social media platforms, you must have come across that quote about someone making a film or a novel—their personality. That is what Henry Sugar did in the story, and it just goes to show that the words of description might change, but human nature rarely does, and that is what makes the story so relevant to this day. It’s all about the insight.
As we watched Henry Sugar being introduced, we couldn’t help but compare him to Ebenezer Scrooge, the blueprint for a rich, old, and grumpy man who loves money more than anything but has a change of heart after seeing a bit more of the world. Both Henry Sugar and Ebenezer Scrooge change themselves due to intense introspection because of some factors. But as enduring as The Christmas Carol is, we like Henry’s journey more because it sounds more believable. Ebenezar Scrooge changed himself because he wanted love and validation. His transformation was because he wanted something in exchange, whereas Henry Sugar expected nothing in return for his efforts, not even love or company. He did everything he did simply because it was the right thing. Roald Dahl was ahead of his time in showing how selflessness and not expecting love in return for decency and goodness can only come from a higher realm of consciousness. In fact, knowing a bit about the writer, we wouldn’t be surprised if The Wonderful Life of Henry Sugar was written as a result of some secret irritation with The Christmas Carol. It makes us think about what a collaboration between Roald Dahl and Bell Hooks would have been like had the former been more of a feminist in his ideals.
Lonely men or children are a recurring theme in most of Roald Dahl’s books. Be it The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG or our favorite, Matilda, Roald Dahl likes to explore the prowess of the lonely mind. We suppose his childhood had a lot to do with it, especially his time at St. Peter and then at Repton. That is covered extensively in his autobiography (not “Going Solo”). We don’t remember the name of the book, but it was illustrated by Quentin Blake. If you can, do give it a read, and you will know what sets Roald Dahl apart from the rest of the world. On a side note, the man is a Virgo, and they are known for being as stubborn as they come while managing to lead some of the most colorful lives there are.
Finally, as we watched The Wonderful Life of Henry Sugar, we wondered whether this could have just been a podcast. But Wes Anderson’s colorful and imaginative frames are unmissable, and they make it worth seeing with your eyes (get the pun?). Netflix seems to be taking a cue from the world outside by wanting to invest in more short-form content. We are not complaining if the quality of it is as good as The Wonderful Life of Henry Sugar.