AAt this point, it’s quite clear that not everyone can create a shared universe. Marvel’s success was followed by a flurry of embarrassing hiccups. The DC Extended Universe resulted in two versions of the same terrible Justice League movie. Universal’s dark universe consisted of a bad mummy movie and the least comfortable photoshoot in living memory. Star Wars is on its way. Even Sony’s Spider-Man universe, which shares some of its DNA with Marvel, is almost guaranteed to take a hit when its vampire Jared Leto film releases next year.
The shared universe is a very, very difficult thing to do. And that’s why Netflix’s booming announcement that it grabbed Roald Dahl’s entire catalog should give you pause for thought.
The deal, estimated at half a billion pounds, seems like a no-brainer from the Dahl Estate. The author’s catalog is thought to make around £ 26million a year, so the prospect of getting two decades of cash in one fell swoop – and all the actual work taken out of their hands – must have been a gift. And, at least initially, Taika Waititi’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory series and the Working Title adaptation of the musical Matilda promise some good things from the deal.
The disturbing part, however, comes further in Netflix’s acquisition statement: “These projects opened our eyes to a much more ambitious endeavor – the creation of a unique universe through animated films and movies. live action and television, publishing, games, immersive experiences, live theater, consumer products and more.
A shared Dahl universe. A Dahliverse, if you will. A universe where BFG and Willy Wonka team up to defeat the Twits. A universe where George’s wonderful medicine is genetically fused to James’ giant peach so that Fantastic Mr Fox can crush the witches. It looks like a nightmare.
With the exception of his unforgivable views on the Jewish people, Roald Dahl knew what he was doing. If he had wanted to combine the characters from his stories into a new book, he would have done so. It wasn’t like he valued his artistry over quick money – he once recommended Kingsley Amis get a children’s book out quickly because “it’s there. where the money is: the little bastards would swallow it ”- so if he sniffed Danny the World Champion in the Big Glass Elevator would move copies of it, he would have written it. But he didn’t, because it seems like a really bad idea.
Worse, there’s a good chance it dilutes what was great about Dahl’s books: Almost without exception, they were concise and self-contained, and the best parts were his interjections as an author. Writers are told “show, don’t tell,” but Dahl always prefers to say a lot; wading through stories to tell us unequivocally that bad guys are bad guys. It’s a trick that works extremely well in small amounts, but has the potential to be an almighty mess if the stories and characters start to crash into each other.
A few years ago, Netflix bought the rights to Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, a short story with a vocabulary of only 50 words. The resulting series had 13 episodes and took such liberties with the source material that it deserves to be buried in an unmarked grave. And that happened just 15 years after Mike Myers turned The Cat in the Hat into an orgy of ugliness and cock jokes that destroy childhood. During this time, in the 1970s and 1980s, Seuss himself wrote a series of animated television specials – some of which tipped towards the end of the shared spectrum of the spectrum – and they were very successful. more creative. There is a lot to be said about keeping the voice of the creator on these issues.
Basically, the Dahliverse has a long, hard road to go. Removing it will take grueling care, thought, and effort. Just slapping his name on a pile of ill-thought-out junk will be bad for Netflix in the short term and ruinous for Dahl’s legacy in the long run. That said, Netflix, if you want to buy the rights to my children’s books for millions of books so that you can put my name on a lot of poorly thought-out garbage, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I am very inexpensive.