Adapted by Wes Anderson from the Roald Dahl short story, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar was released on Netflix on September 27, 2023. The whimsical tale of magical realism follows Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch), a wealthy eccentric who has the ability to see without using his eyes. The acclaimed short film bears all the hallmarks of Dahl’s creative imagination and Anderson’s unique visual style.
For those who enjoyed The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, there are plenty of other enchanting comedic fantasy movies to indulge in. The best companion pieces tend to focus on a charismatic protagonist who bears a magical quality of some kind that springboards the plot and leads to an enchantingly sweet conclusion.
10 Playtime (1967)
When watching Anderson’s deft use of artificial sets and precise camerawork, it’s nearly impossible not to think of Jacques Tati’s Playtime. The French classic of physical slapstick comedy finds Monsieur Hulot aimlessly ambling around a futuristic high-tech building in Paris. Much like Henry Sugar, the film is structured into precise segments that allow for expert framing and composition.
While Hulot doesn’t technically possess a magical ability, the way in which he wanders through the massive artificial set feels as if he has a strange Godlike power similar to Sugar’s ability to see without using his eyes. However, what stands out most is the giant, elaborate set that Tati spent years building to accommodate his fastidious attention to detail. Moreover, the striking use of background extras gives both movies a depth of field that feels like a choreographed stage play.
9 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
Among Roald Dahl’s most celebrated adaptations, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is a perfect companion piece with Henry Sugar. Both films revolve around a charismatic eccentric with a hidden dark side who uses their magical abilities to grant better opportunities to children. The adept use of vivid colors and artificial sets gives both projects a sense of magical realism that drives the narrative. Moreover, both stories are considered among Dahl’s more adult entries.
Although Willy Wonka has more of a musical bent to the story than Henry Sugar, both movies manage to capture the author’s wild imagination and focus on a flawed man with goodness deep down in his heart. It’s hard not to feel like a kid again when watching both movies, with both relying on spectacular set pieces and rifling dialog to keep viewers captivated. Tim Burton’s 2005 remake is also worth seeing.
8 Big Fish (2003)
Speaking of Tim Burton, the director’s 2003 fantasy drama Big Fish has many tonal comparisons to Henry Sugar. Adapted from the Daniel Wallace novel, the story follows Will Bloom, a journalist who spends his life deciphering the mystical tall tales told by his father, Edward Bloom, a notorious liar and con artist known for his fanciful fibs. Along with the whimsical tone, the sense of magical realism in the movie makes Big Fish simpatico with Henry Sugar.
Much like Wes Anderson, Tim Burton channels his own distinct visual style to adapt the fantasy story in ways that stay true to his own artistic expressions while also capturing the essence of the source material. While Big Fish has more of an investigative drive, Edward Bloom and Henry Sugar have a lot in common as bittersweet patriarchs with cryptic pasts. Above all, both movies embody a palpable sense of childlike wonderment.
7 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Adapted by David Fincher from the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is another enchanting tale of magical realism sure to appeal to Henry Sugar fans. Creating its own sense of mythology, the story concerns Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a man who ages in reverse and slowly becomes an infant after being born as a geriatric.
Although Benjamin Button has a more romantic vibe than Henry Sugar, both movies are precisely lensed, full of intricate directorial flourishes, and feature a rich storytelling sense that aptly reflects their respective authors’ style. Both Anderson and Fincher are visual perfectionists who utilize the foreground and background to create unforgettable visual splendor. Of course, it’s the dazzling magical peculiarities that make both title characters eminently fascinating.
6 Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Also adapted from a classic Roald Dahl story, it’s hard to omit Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox from the fray. The story concerns Mr. Fox (George Clooney), a charismatic mammal who cannot purge his true nature as a wily hunter. When Mr. Fox and his friends return to raid a chicken farm, they get into a harrowing series of misadventures that lead to an emotional father-son resolution.
For the first time translating the children’s author’s work to the big screen, Anderson managed to tell a heartfelt moralistic tale in a family-friendly movie marked by A-grade animated artwork. While the story is much different than Henry Sugar, the way in which Anderson beautifully relays the author’s message while imbuing the movie with his own visual flourishes is very similar. As the only other Anderson-Dahl adaptation to date, Fantastic Mr. Fox makes for a perfect double bill with Henry Sugar.
5 The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasssus (2009)
Written and directed by Terry Gilliam, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus has the quirky tone, tenor, and texture of a classic Roald Dahl story. The plot follows a traveling theater company led by Dr. Parnassus, a charismatic showman who makes a deal with the devil to bring his audience into a magic mirror inside his mind. The surrealist fantasy film is best known for featuring the late Heath Ledger’s final screen performance as Tony, a new member of the troupe.
Beyond the majestic whimsy of the story and vibrant color palate, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a dazzling FX-driven marvel that bears many of Gilliam’s directorial hallmarks. Considering how Henry Sugar is a chronic gambler willing to take daring risks at the card table, Dr. Parnassus selling his soul to the devil comes across with similar high stakes that inform the story and give the character well-rounded shading.
4 The BFG (2016)
Steven Spielberg’s The BFG is another fantasy film based on a classic Roald Dahl children’s story. The plot involves Sophie, a 10-year-old orphan who befriends a Big Friendly Giant (BFG), a kindhearted creature who guides the young girl to Giant Country to prevent man-eating giants from eliminating the human population. While the movie is a bit more kid-friendly than Henry Sugar, there’s simply too much in common with both films to ignore.
For instance, at its core, The BFG is a touching story of an orphan finding solace in an unlikely place and forging a family dynamic with someone from a much different background. Henry Sugar ends with the title character using his influence to open a series of hospitals and orphanages for children in need. Dahl’s dedication to helping orphans likely stems from the fact his father and sister died when he was three years old, leaving him without a sense of family from a very early age.
3 The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)
Based on the 1973 novel by John Bellairs, The House with the Clock in its Walls is a wonderfully amusing fantasy comedy directed by Eli Roth. In many ways, the film feels like the twisted love child of a Tim Burton/Roald Dahl story, with the plot concerning an orphan named Lewis. When Lewis is sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in his moldering mansion full of magical bells and whistles, he must locate a hidden clock buried in the walls and stop it before the world ends.
While Roth’s movie may be a bit more horror-centric than Henry Sugar, there’s no denying the level of zany energy and infectious amusement that it boasts in typical Dahl fashion. The performances by Black, Cate Blanchett, and youngster Owen Vaccaro are genuinely compelling, and the ’70s source material by children’s author Bellairs touches on the same themes regarding the alienation orphans often feel and the difference finding a family unit can have in their lives.
2 Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)
Based on the 1994 short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A.S. Byatt, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a wistful romantic fantasy film directed by the great George Miller. Tilda Swinton stars as Alithea Binnie, a scholar who travels to Turkey and soon uncorks a mystical genie (Idris Elba) who helps her overcome her loneliness and isolation.
Praised as a spectacular, FX-driven Aladdin for adults, Three Thousand Years of Longing excels most thanks to the ambitious marvels and sweet-natured chemistry between Swinton and Elba. However, there’s a melancholic sadness to both Alithea and Henry Sugar that viewers can sense as each movie unfolds.
Moreover, the magical abilities of both characters are exposed to prove to be a blessing and a curse, with each movie as a cautionary tale. In that regard, both movies also have a darker fairytale quality about them that reinforces the old adage, “Be careful of what you wish for.”
1 Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)
Frankly, few movies are comparable to Everything Everywhere All At Once, a truly unique cinematic experience that defies description and fuses several genres together to create an unforgettable mashup. However, considering one of the inspirations was William Steig’s 1969 children’s novel, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, putting it in the same category as The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar isn’t that much of a stretch. Besides, everyone should see the 2023 Best Picture Winner at least once in their life.
Beyond the astonishing visual tableau and sense of magical surrealism that the movie engenders, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh in a quintessential role) isn’t that dissimilar to Henry Sugar. Both characters express a sense of regret later in their lives and use their newfound magical powers to better the lives of those less fortunate. In Evelyn’s case, connecting with her nihilistic daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and enabling her to be the best version of herself is on par with Henry’s charitable behavior at the end of his story.