When I was a tiny child in elementary school, one of my first exposures to literature was the work of former WWII fighter pilot turned author Roald Dahl. Dahl’s children’s stories are much like A Series of Unfortunate Events: unexpectedly dark and a little weird, but undeniably brilliant and uniquely creative. And according to Variety, Netflix is gearing up to make a whole cinematic universe’s worth of animated versions of Dahl’s work.
While Roald Dahl wrote for both children and adults, it’s his work for kids that stands out in the memory. James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG. All him. Dahl’s work tends to star a morally upright and innocent child, and villainous adults who abuse their status in the world. He also had a habit of using made-up words that were still easily understandable.
Perhaps most distinct of all, Dahl rarely babied the reader. He let serious themes and ideas infuse his stories and didn’t treat kids like they aren’t smart enough to understand that this story is about more than a weirdo who runs a candy company or an abnormally large fruit.
According to the teaser reel released with the news, the Netflix series will adapt Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, Matilda, The Twits (which has never been adapted before), “and many more.” The many more also includes, according to Variety, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and George’s Marvellous Medicine but not James and the Giant Peach or The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Dahl’s work is uniquely suited to animation for one really particular reason: The illustrations. Done by Quentin Blake, the sketchlike line work and soft watercolors add a unique feel to Dahl’s work. As a child, the pictures are what drew me to Dahl’s work in the beginning (I was more of a comic book kid). These illustrations are probably the first image to pop into your head when you think about Roald Dahl books.
I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Dahl adaption that was as good as or better than the book. They always lean way too hard into the fantastic elements of the story, forgetting that it’s the mundane parts that make them relatable and give them teeth. That’s why I’m rooting for these Netflix animated versions. By making everything animated, instead of just the visual effects, the story’s whole world becomes fantastic, and the narrative can focus more on characters, themes, and all that other important stuff.
This initiative is part of Netflix’s major content push in animation. The encroaching launch of Disney’s streaming service is set to take a huge bite out of Netflix’s “family” content library. Along with these Dahl cartoons, Netflix is set to take on several new animated films and series by celebrated creators across the industry, which I’m excited to see. Animation outside the Disney sphere of influence can go to places that Disney won’t, because they’re too protective of their image. But Dahl’s work has never been afraid to get dark, weird, and serious. If it’s set to be part of the next stage of animation history, I’m here for it.