As a story, Roald Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar might not be everyone’s cup of tea—it’s certainly not mine. But as a Wes Anderson short film, it is another delightful splendor with a fantastic cast bringing their whimsical A-game. Returning to the dazzling world of Wes Anderson is Ralph Fiennes as the author while featuring a first-time entrance for stars like Benedict Cumberbatch and Dev Patel. Alongside them, the short film also stars Rupert Friend, Ben Kingsley, and Richard Ayoade. Further, unlike in his latest feature film, Asteroid City, longtime collaborator Alexandre Desplat returns to the score the small chronicle.
While the enjoyment of the film will depend entirely on the story and whether viewers are fond of Anderson’s stylistic blasts, the execution is riveting for what it allows the cast to bring to our screens. It is astonishing that it took this long to cast Cumberbatch in such a world when he fits right in, even as he sticks out sorely for playing the titular character. Cumberbatch embraces every bit of Anderson’s world, imbuing it with his chops in a fascinating fashion that will leave viewers begging for more of him.
Still, as in many of Anderson’s films, the story within a story unravels effectively and with careful, pristinely detailed narration straight to the camera. To embrace the art of storytelling and Dahl’s specific means of exposition and introspection, the film jumps straight toward fusing an intricate balance of show and tell by bringing to life the words on the page almost as accurately as possible. In its short runtime, it’s undoubtedly what stands out despite the heavy themes planted inside.
Now, part of the reason The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar doesn’t work is because the stories about rich people getting richer are anything but interesting in 2023. They are overdone, boring, and, quite frankly, unnecessary. In a time like the one we live in today, where creative jobs are still scarce, and billionaires aren’t paying their workers what they are due, who wants to watch another white man come to power based on his desires to one-up normalcy? Not this journalist, for one. But this is Wes Anderson, and even if the story isn’t one I plan on revisiting, his vision almost always provides enough meat to merit viewing.
In the 40 minutes (37 if we’re being exact), Anderson explores curiosities and failures and etches them with the meaning of life as best as he often does. Like most of his films, this story is about people and their human complexities bleeding together to showcase flaws and weaknesses amid the strengths. It’s an undeniable feast for the eyes, lavished with blue hues and thoughtful locations to showcase the importance of learning and bettering oneself. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is a solid, engaging short film that effectively exhibits the harsh cruelties of how cheating grows and feeds the ego. And it succeeds entirely because of Anderson’s vision and the cast.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is now playing on Netflix.