Wes Anderson’s recently come under fire for his so-called ‘repetitive’ aesthetic; but I couldn’t disagree more with these accusations. Sure, the director has his preferred color palettes, shot composition and even rapid-fire dialogues, but does this make something repetitive? With each new feature, he seems to dive deeper and expand, not merely rehashing but constantly building upon his last offering, and that’s no different in the four short films he’s just released on Netflix. Each is based on a different Roald Dahl short story, but taken together these films form a mosaic that shows Anderson at the height of his storytelling powers.
Anderson’s movies have always had a kind of meta element to them, being just as interested in the art of storytelling as they are in the stories themselves. He breaks new ground on this principal in these new films by having actors practically read the stories to the camera, sometimes even including dialogue tags like “I said.” They do so in the cadence that’s become synonymous with his movies, rapidly jumping from one word to the next. This metafictional element is further heightened by the decision to have stage hands rush props back and forth across the frame, not hiding but embracing the fact that what we’re looking at is a crafted story. It’s as if you’re watching a theater play, which makes one question the limits of the medium itself much like the black and white sections of Asteroid City (2023). It’s beautiful how, within so much artifice, Anderson is able to locate a kernel of something that feels true and real. Along with the gorgeous set design, I think the acting has a lot to do with this.
Instead of the wide-ranging ensemble casts he’s used to working with, Anderson limits himself here to a small crew of actors who did a phenomenal job embodying their roles. Dev Patel steals the screen anytime he’s on camera, absolutely nailing the breathless dialogues and rapid movements needed for the quickfire pacing of each short film. Benedict Cumberbatch also does great, particularly in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. I’d also be remiss to not talk about Rupert Friend’s jaw dropping role in The Swan (my favorite of the four), where we’re given so much tenderness, anger and humanity in each line's delivery. It’s also in this film where Ralph Fiennes does a fantastic job as Roald Dahl himself, ending the film on a line that’s sure to stick in your head long after credits roll. Such amazing acting really carries each movie, especially once it’s highlighted by some great visuals.
There’s a kind of fluidity to the narrative reflected in the camerawork. The camera tilts, pans and dolly zooms, unfolding as if on a single stage while the backdrops transform right before our eyes. Anderson’s use of pastel colors provides an interesting contrast when the films take a turn toward the tragic, especially in The Swan where violence and death spiral together as if we’re watching a horror movie. It’s something that’s so unmistakably Wes Anderson, yet also something viewers have likely never seen before. Some of these movies are less than 20minutes long, the longest being less than an hour, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t stream them on Netflix today!