Monthly Archives: November 2015


There are some things in life that we as a species will never understand. Why is Family Guy still on? Why are there $2 fees at ATMs? Why do telemarketers always ring during dinner?

For me I will never understand, til the day I die, how on earth CATS ran for 18 years.

It may seem obvious, but I’m not a fan of this show. At all. I don’t think much of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s contribution to musical theatre is anything to scream about, with a few exceptions. I’ll always love Phantom, and Tell Me On A Sunday will remain a beloved part of my personal vocal repertoire.

But CATS, upon its recent return to Australia, having last played in 2014, seemed to reignite the flames of debate, of whether this is a beloved musical theatre classic or deserves to be shot. The casting of pop star Delta Goodrem in the iconic role of Grizabella caused more than a few raised eyebrows in the music theatre community. Once opening night rolled around and reports of a rapping Rum Tum Tugger appeared, the purists emerged from their ivory towers to cry sacrilege on fixing what was never broken.

Sorry, purists. This show is not only broken, it’s shattered into a million pieces and scattered to the four corners of the earth. It’s an unholy mess. It’s one of those musicals where I just shake my head and ask “How?”
How did this show run for 18 years?
How did it sweep the Tony Awards?
How did it win Best Musical? Best BOOK?!?

So, how did CATS all come about?
Well, the entire show is based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by the great T.S Eliot. It’s a collection of very creative poems about, what else, cats! It’s nothing phenomenal but it’s good harmless fun. Apparently, as a child, it was one of Webber’s favourites. And just to get this out of the way, there’s nothing wrong with adapting a childhood classic into a musical (Seussical, anyone?). It’s how you do it that makes or breaks it.
No, this is not a review of the current Sydney production. I suffered through this exercise in egomania once and not a lot could entice me to willingly sit through it again.
I’m not going to sit here and claim that CATS is destroying the source material. It’s not. And the poetry does lend itself to the musical theatre medium, but I’ll get to the music later. What I’m doing here is analysing the musical as part of the genre, and why I don’t think it works as a musical, to say the least.


Here’s your first hint

CATS is a curious case. It’s so awful, it’s actually kind of fascinating. There are times where I wonder whether it can legally be termed a musical, since most musicals have storylines and characters.
CATS does not possess these. See, T.S Eliot’s estate actually forbade the inclusion of a story and this is where things start to go wrong.
You can pretty much summarise the plot of CATS in five words. Weird creatures dance on junkyard. And that concludes our synopsis. I bet we’re going to be in for a wild ride here.
As the show opens, the audience is introduced to the Jellicle tribe. The cats dance around the stage and sing about all the wonderful and pointless things the Jellicle cats can do. And they’re also not kind enough to explain what the heck they are.
Clearly, these cats are not traditional felines, and they aren’t human. So….what are they? Where did they come from? What is their purpose? No? Nothing? Hello, confused audience here? ….Seriously?

Oh, they’ll happily tell you off as an audience for not knowing what they are. I’m dead serious. The following are actual lyrics from the end of the opening number.

There’s a man over there with a look of surprise
As much as to say well now how about that?
Do I actually see with my own very eyes
A man who’s not heard of a jellicle cat?
What’s a jellicle cat?
What’s a jellicle cat? (They repeat this 5 more times)

For a second you think they might actually tell you, but instead they launch into a rather creepy song about how they get their names. I don’t care how you get your names, I want to know what on earth you….things are!
And when they tell you how they get named, they don’t actually single out any cat so they have an identity. No, it’s just a list, a roll call of sorts, and it goes on forever. Actually, all the songs go on forever. WIth no dialogue, no story and nothing to hold your attention, I suppose it’s only fitting that they need to have something to extend the ‘action’ on stage. But there’s extending, and there’s pointless padding, which this musical has in spades. Every single song goes on for well over four minutes. Every. Single. Song. And remember how I said there’s literally no dialogue? I hope you have a comfortable seat, because things get boring fast.

As soon as the estate said a story was not to be included, this SHOULD have been a major red flag. Maybe, just maybe, musical theatre runs best when there is a flowing narrative.
I’ve had some fans try to tell me that the show is a song cycle. NO. Songs for a New World is a song cycle. Edges is a song cycle. CATS is not a song cycle. They’re clearly trying to tell something here, and with the restrictions placed on the production, it’s just not possible to make it the least bit interesting.


Great, you’re dancing again. Now will you please DO SOMETHING?

So there’s no story. Well, maybe the characters can be fun and bring some life to the proceedings? I think you give this show way too much credit. There’s about a much personality in these characters as a rice cake. The general ensemble of cats don’t even get much of a chance at development or identity so they all sort of blend together, and the cats that do get songs are rarely seen again. They aren’t even that important in the grand scheme of things. And you know what? When the show opened on Broadway, the cast was very confused about what they were doing.
When your own cast has no idea what’s going on, you’ve really run into trouble.

Despite being forbidden to have a storyline, there’s still a few laughable attempts at creating some kind of narrative. Macavity shows up occasionally, and for some reason the cats are disgusted by Grizabella’s presence, though neither “plot threads” are ever actually given any motivation or justification.
Macavity is allegedly the antagonist, though a presence is barely established. Don’t try to tell me that the less you see the better. That only works if there’s a build up to the climax, and there’s ZERO build up here. Macavity isn’t even mentioned until he first appears in the shadows with an evil laugh. They never say why Macavity is so evil or what his problem is with everyone else. He isn’t talked about, foreshadowed, and the song about him tells us very little. The most you glean is “he’s not there!”
*sigh* Two things.
1. What kind of criminal hangs around at the crime scene?  Do you honestly expect that?
2. These “crimes” Macavity is committing are little more than harmless pranks. And frankly he doesn’t seem scary to begin with so I have trouble believing he’d be pulling off anything worth worrying about.
The bottom line is, Macavity is a useless antagonist. He never seems a legitimate threat to anyone. So….WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THIS GUY? Just a half baked attempt to put another pointless song in? That’s pretty weak.
Oh, Grizabella. Nice to see you suddenly appear for no reason into the plot. Oh, that’s right. We need to pretend there’s something going on other than dancing. Grizabella is an old grey cat, who was apparently once glamourous, but she isn’t anymore, and for some reason the Jellicle tribe hates her. She only comes on to get ridiculed before singing sadly and leaving. Le sigh. You could take her out of the show and you’d really not have a major difference. But of course, she sings that one song and everyone swoons.
And I’m just going to say this now. Memory can go die. In a fire.


My face throughout the entire show

This is definitely not a case of the music saving a show, like Chess or RENT. The songs for CATS are sub-par at best, even for Andrew Lloyd Webber. There’s song after song after song with no purpose. Pretty much the only thing you can get from these songs is that these are nominees for the Heavyside Layer. Riveting.
Normally I might not mind this. After all, Spring Awakening‘s score comments on the action rather than driving it forward, but like I said before, these cats are rarely seen again. They are not consequential. And from the second Grizabella staggers onto the stage, you know she’s going to be the one chosen.
By the way, what exactly is the Heavyside Layer? Yeah, they aren’t going to tell you that either.
For me, this is the most fascinating thing about CATS. And by fascinating, I mean fascinatingly bad. This show spends the entire running time explaining everything, and never actually manages to explain anything at all. Grizabella and Macavity are one thing, but what about the other questions that are never answered? What’s the Heavyside Layer? What are these things? What is going on? Why should I care? Can I stop watching now, please?

CATS is a marvel. Truly a gift to bad theatre. There’s just nothing here. Nothing to like. Nothing to be interested in. Nothing to care about, nothing to hold your attention.
I will give the cast a huge amount of credit, because to get through this show you need to be a superhuman. And the choreography is impressive, but after about ten minutes the sheen wears off and you crave something more.
The only reason this show won so many awards is because of Webber’s involvement. It was made at the height of his reign as King of Musical Theatre, so audiences were willing to swallow anything regurgitated onto the stage. It’s a dancer’s show, so it was kind of a new idea, and I’ve heard it referred to as the first ‘concept’ musical, though what ‘concept’ it was I would love to know. I can’t even give it the excuse of being style over substance. This isn’t like Love Never Dies, where I can at least understand people being sucked in by pretty visuals. See what you’ve done, CATS? You nearly made me justify Paint Never Dries. Bad kitty.

If you like CATS, fine. Go ahead and like it. And if you think it has a storyline or legitimate answers to any of the questions raised, then please tell me. I am beyond curious. I’m praying for the day the industry finally wakes up and realises that Australia needs and deserves better quality musical theatre, not just endless revivals of the same dull shows that aren’t even that great to begin with. Until then, and possibly after, I’m tossing this kitty litter out into the cold where it belongs.


Inside Out: A lesson in good family films

Over the last month in my Seuss on Screen series, I’ve ripped apart the terrible Dr Seuss films one by one. Complaining about everything from lazy writing to deviation from the source material, I haven’t left a single fibre intact.

However, the time has come for some positive words. To shower praise on a film that deserves to be placed on a pedestal. Pixar’s Inside Out. I’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t seen this movie yet, but I’m sure there’s people who haven’t, so a warning. Spoilers ahead.

My favourite Pixar film is Up, and anyone who’s seen it will know why. I’d heard Inside Out was good, and the concept seemed creative, so I was pretty excited. Once I found out that Pete Docter was at the helm (director and writer of Up), I was sold. I simply had to go. I went and saw the film on my 23rd birthday this year, because I’m an adult. My partner and friends and I, all in our twenties and thirties, crowded into the theatre. And let me tell you now, this film did not disappoint. I think we enjoyed it more than anyone else in the theatre. Including the kids. Inside Out is everything I was told it is, and more.

First, the story for the two of you who don’t know it. Inside Out takes place inside the head of an 11 year old girl named Riley. Her five emotions are manifested in Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Riley has recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco and is struggling with the adjustment. Through an accident, Joy and Sadness are sucked out of headquarters into the rest of Riley’s mind, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust to run the show. It’s up to Joy and Sadness to return the core memories back to Headquarters and make Riley happy again.

See, Riley’s mind runs on her emotions and memories, which are coloured according to what emotion she was feeling at the time. Most are stored away in Long Term Memory Storage, but there’s 5 core memories, which come from a vital moment in Riley’s life. Each core memory powers the Islands of Personality (Hockey Island, Honesty Island, Friendship Island, Family Island and Goofball Island). With no core memories, the Islands are shut down. Riley can’t show emotion at all.

Throughout the entire introduction I was going “Brilliant. Brilliant”. It was just ingenious. There’s so much potential for creativity and imagination with this set up and believe me, the movie takes full advantage of it. From Riley’s dreams being made on Dream Productions movie sets to a hilarious running gag that explains why you can’t get that catchy song out of your head, the world of Riley’s mind is wildly creative and fun. Imagination Land, French Fry Forest, Cloudtown, all these places made me feel like a child again. Every second of commentary on the mind (“These facts and opinions look so similar!” “There’s conductive reasoning, there’s deja vu, there’s language processing, there’s deja vu, there’s critical thinking, there’s deja vu…”) rings true. There’s a joke about ice-cream related brain freeze, they talk about memories fading, they’ve really explored all the possibilities with how the human brain and emotions function.

There’s so much comedy in this, but the best thing about the comedy is that it all comes from the concept, not a reliance on pop culture references. In fact, in terms of the pop culture nods, I counted four. (I swear I was the only one laughing at the Chinatown reference!) The comedy comes from the world, and the characters.


Anger, Fear, Disgust, Joy and Sadness are such wonderful personalities and they’re so much fun to watch. They’re more than just stereotypes, and this comes across strongly in the voice acting. What perfect casting. Amy Poehler as Joy is a smiley faced optimist with the most infectious energy, Mindy Kahling is a riot as the sassy Disgust, Bill Hader is hilarious as a hysterical Fear and Phyllis Smith hits every note as Sadness. But the one who steals the show, for me at least, is comedian Lewis Black as Anger. His biting delivery and dry humour is beyond pitch perfect.

These emotions work off each other brilliantly and their character arcs are rock solid. The Emotions go beyond simply being scared or happy. Fear is“really good at keeping Riley safe”. Disgust “keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially,” and Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair,” And when Riley is unable to show any emotion, it’s a true representation of depression. Depression goes beyond being sad. It’s having nothing. I’ve heard the filmmakers consulted heavily with psychologists during production and my hats off to them. The way emotions and feelings and their relationship with what’s happening around you is so well represented in a way children can understand and identify with. Psychologists now are actually using the film to treat children and help them process their feelings, and you can see why.

Despite the charming humour, they also know the power of silence and visuals. There’s a number of moments in the film that give the characters and the audience a chance to draw breath. Look at Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend. He’s one of the funniest characters in the movie, but he isn’t always the life of the party. He has several crying moments, such as when his rocket is sent to the dump. That moment sets up the character/story arc with Joy and Sadness later without rubbing your face in it. This, any horrible family film who happens to be reading this, is how you create pacing and foreshadowing correctly.


Are you listening?

And now it’s time to talk about my absolute favourite aspect of the film. The moral.

Joy has to learn the importance of Sadness, and so does the audience. In the end, Fear, Disgust, Joy and Anger are all powerless to stop Riley running away. Only Sadness can get the idea out of her head. Only Sadness can make Riley feel anything again. Only Sadness can signal to the parents that Riley isn’t ok. And it’s without doubt one of the greatest scenes in cinema history. It shows the power of all emotions, and the importance of not masking your feelings. It humanises the parents, and shows the connection Riley has with them.

But after all that, Riley doesn’t have her typical happy ending, where she gets to go home. She learns to live in San Francisco. Just how it would play in real life. And this is a story about real life. When Bing Bong sacrifices himself for Riley and Joy, he doesn’t miraculously return. He stays forgotten. And it’s tragic, but it’s also real life. I know a lot people were very touched by that moment, because it brought back memories for them. I remembered my imaginary friend Michelle at that moment, and it was bittersweet. This is a film that is not afraid of the truth, and is not afraid of reality.

In today’s world, with the explosion of technology and social media, depression and feelings of inadequacy are rampant. With sites such as Facebook and Instagram, we can choose the persona we present to the world, and in desperation to feel like we have it all together, we often present the highlights and exaggerate how perfect life is. But the truth is that nobody’s life is perfect, and it’s ok to admit that not everything is bunnies and rainbows. Inside Out knows this, and I can only give it a standing ovation.

It’s rare that I say this, but this is about the most perfect movie you can imagine. Everything about this movie is the pinnacle of quality entertainment. And the best thing about it? It’s not just for kids. This movie has a message that is vital for every human being to know, especially in the 21st century.

I am so grateful a movie like Inside Out exists. It has everything. Wonderful characters, great acting, brilliant writing, creativity, originality, beautiful animation and a moral which is desperately needed.

For all these reasons and more, Inside Out has found a very special place in my heart. It’s a movie I can proclaim as a masterpiece of animation. An instant classic. Like everyone else, I simply love this movie and I’ll gush over it til the day I die. If you haven’t seen it, get that DVD, stat.


You’ll never be forgotten by me 😥


Seuss on Screen Part 4: The Lorax

A 12-year-old boy searches for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams. To find it, he must discover the story of the Lorax, the grumpy yet charming forest creature who fights to protect his world,”

Ladies and gentlemen, those few above words
Make my ears scream in agony from what they’ve just heard.
The Lorax, a Seuss adaptation of late,
Brings no other emotion inside me but hate
Hate for this film and for what they have done,
But people still watched it, and it cashed in a ton.
Without further ado and no minimus morax,
My name is AbStar. And this is The Lorax

What you read above is the description on the DVD of 2012’s The Lorax. Produced and distributed by Illumination Entertainment and Universal, The Lorax was a huge financial success, raking in $348 million at the box office. It’s the second of the full-length animated feature films based on Ted Geisel’s work and the fourth film overall. The financial success led to announcements of future animated films of The Grinch and Cat in the Hat. It also led to myself and other Seuss devotees cringing in fear as to what new level of insult these movies could set to such a great writer’s work. But for now, I’m ripping apart The Lorax.

Before launching into this rant of epic proportions, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. The Lorax is NOT the worst of the Seuss films. Cat in the Hat wins that trophy hands down. The Lorax has some elements that almost work, and I’ll get to those. But it’s easily the Seuss movie I have the harshest feelings towards, and it’s the one that makes me the saddest. Why is this? Let’s look at the source material.

The Lorax was written in 1971 and is easily the darkest of Dr Seuss’ books. There’s little if any of his trademark whimsical humour and bright colours. In the book, a young nameless boy living in a polluted city visits the Once-ler, a mysterious reclusive creature who knows the story of the Lorax, and the mystery of why there are no trees in the town. The Once-ler reveals he chopped down the Truffula trees years ago in order to make Thneeds, an absurdly versatile invention. All the while, the Once-ler is at odds with the Lorax, who tries to warn him of the dangers.
Interestingly, the book is told through two narrators. The beginning and ending of the book is the second person, making the reader the nameless child, which creates a very powerful image, especially in the conclusion. Again, this will be important later. The majority of the story is narrated by the Once-ler in first person, essentially making the antagonist the protagonist like the Grinch.
The Lorax was Dr Seuss’ personal favourite of his books. “The Lorax,” he said “came out of my being angry. In The Lorax I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might.”
Like many others, I believe The Lorax is one of the best children’s books ever written. It’s engaging, uncompromisingly grim and very adult in theme. As usual with Seuss’ writing, it never panders to the children. But what I love most about the book is how it DOESN’T knock you over the head with an environmental message. It doesn’t paint black and white extremes. It’s simply a cautionary tale about greed, both corporate and personal. It’s not my all-time favourite Seuss book (nothing will ever beat Oh! The Places You’ll Go!) but it’s definitely in my top 3.

Unlike other books, The Lorax actually does lend itself to a movie. It’s very story driven, it has great characters in the Once-ler and the Lorax, there’s so much subtlety and weight to the message. And yes, there is a good animated special from 1972 with a teleplay and lyrics by Seuss himself, who also produced. The animated special goes more in depth of the Once-ler debating himself about the pollution his factory is causing and shows the argument of economics and employment. Sure, it’s a bit dated now, but it still holds up as a much better adaptation than the….thing I’m about to review.

Actually, it’s not so much a review as opposed to a beatdown. Rather than simply going beginning to end, I’m instead going to look at the elements of the movie and compare to both the book and the animated special. Is this unfair, especially considering my mantra that changes are necessary in adaptation to new mediums? Well, no. Because I can tolerate changes and even like them if they serve the base story and respect the source material. The changes made here are an abomination. There’s not one shred of respect to Seuss’ writing or to the target audience.

Comparison #1: Setting and new characters.

The problems in the movie become dazzlingly clear from the very beginning. In the film, the book’s nameless boy becomes 12 year old Ted (get it? That’s Dr Seuss’ real name!) and he lives in a town called Thneedville. Very clever. Allow me to give you a visual comparison of these settings. This is what the town in the book looks like.


This is what Thneedville looks like in the film.


You starting to see the problem here?

As opposed to the desolate wasteland in the book, Ted is living in a plastic paradise. Everything is artificial and there are no trees. They literally sing an upbeat tune about how much they love living this way.

‘In Thneedville we love living this way/It’s like living in paradise/It’s perfect and that’s how it will stay/Here in love-the-life-we-leadville’.

I can’t type out any more lyrics. It’s all in the same vein and it just hurts. This is where the message starts getting skewed. By putting Ted in this place, the movie removes all weight of the consequences of the Once-ler, because there are none to begin with. There’s no urgency, no darkness, and no reason for anybody to want to change things. Humans are very happy to live like this, buying fresh air and running fake trees on battery power. Ugh.
Yes, I know they’re being ironic and this could potentially be the forerunner to a big character arc but it’s not. And it’s going to come back and bite them later in the movie.

Ted, by the way, is voiced by Zac Efron. That’s right, a 26 year old man is voicing a 12 year old. It’s about as lazy and out of place as you can imagine. This, sadly, is only the first in a long line up of bad voice acting.

So, with absolutely no reason whatsoever for Ted to go search for the Once-ler, again sucking out the impact of a boy going of his own volition, the movie instead gives him the most selfish motivation you could possibly give a character. See, there’s a pretty girl next door named Audrey (named after Seuss’ still-living widow) who loves to paint, and wishes to see a real tree for her birthday.


Meet Bland and Blander.

Yes, you read that correctly. Ted goes in search of a tree to basically get in a girl’s pants. Not to make the world better. So faithful to the original story!

Like Ted, Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift) was born without a personality. They’re about the most boring characters you can imagine, lazily written to the extreme, which is not helped by the bad voice acting. It’s obvious they were picked for the names and not for the credibility of their performances. They’re given nothing to work with either. Their “relationship” and “romance” is not interesting or fun, and you don’t care about them.

But maybe the side characters can be fun. How do the rest of Thneedville pan out?
Ted’s mother is even less interesting than the mother in Cat and the Hat, the townspeople make no impact whatsoever and only feature in the stupid musical numbers. And what was with that delivery guy’s voice? A big tough masculine man with a high pitched tenor? It’s the most jarring one heard in the film.

Then we have Ted’s Grammy Norma (Betty White, who adds some form of dignity despite the script) who advises Ted to go find the Once-ler.

This is a hugely missed opportunity. Grammy Norma could have been a serene figure who nurtured Ted’s curiosity. She could have been the only one in town to remember trees (apparently she is, but it’s only revealed in a single line. At the end of the movie). She doesn’t even need to necessarily be alive. Maybe Ted could have grown up hearing her stories. Maybe he’s just remembering her. Maybe he finally found the guts to go find the Once-ler himself, having seen the destruction of Thneedville. It practically writes itself. But no, she’s just an energetic, snowboarding senior citizen who is happy to sit around smiling as Aloysius “Did-I-Mention-I’m-The-Antagonist” O’Hare takes over the town.


“I’m Frankenstein’s head on a spider’s body! I’m also a complete and utter waste of animation,”

You’ve never heard of Aloysius O’Hare, you say? Well, nobody has because he was completely made up for the movie. And he’s easily the worst character added. Aside from poor Rob Riggle being forced to make something of a completely one-dimensional character, he has a stupid design ripped off from Shrek and The Incredibles, and no redeeming features whatsoever. He’s just the evil head of the evil corporation that runs the town, selling oxygen to people since the air is too polluted (by the way, where is the oxygen coming from if there are no trees? They never answer that). He apparently monitors the town constantly. There is no reason for this. Nobody is interested in trees aside from Audrey.
O’Hare hates trees because they make oxygen for free. That’s his motivation. Money, money, money. Much like the producers of this film. He never seems the least bit threatening as an antagonist. And what’s more, Dr Seuss deliberately avoided this type of character in his book. Why? Because the idea behind The Lorax is that there is no villain. Speaking of which, the Once-ler is due to appear any minute. This is by far the most depressing aspect of the movie. The story of The Lorax is treated as a mere annoyance. The movie is way more interested in Thneedville than, you know, the actual plot, and it’s as boring as you can imagine. It goes beyond mere laziness. It’s actually sickening. Don’t believe me? They directly mock and alter Dr Seuss’ writing. Not once, but TWICE.

The first such occurrence comes when Audrey is describing Truffula trees to Ted. The original text is provided for purposes of sticking it to the writers in every way possible. (Warning: this is really going to hurt)

Original text
But those trees! Those trees!
Those Truffula Trees!
All my life I’d been searching for trees such as these.
The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk
And they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk

Movie dialogue
Audrey: And they even smelled like butterfly milk.
Ted: Wow….what does that even mean?
Audrey: I know, right?

No, dear reader. That is not a joke. They literally just mocked the writing of the author they claim to fight so hard for. This is a new low for these movies to sink.

Original text

At the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows
And the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
And no birds ever sing excepting old crows
Is the street of the Lifted Lorax

Movie dialogue
Grammy Norma: Far outside of town where the grass never grows

What, may I ask, is wrong with Grickle-grass, writers? It’s not copyrighted, you’re making a movie. And for the record, the grass doesn’t grow in Thneedville anyway. What’s the difference of grass not growing outside town?!?

When Ted shows up at the Once-ler’s Lerkim, the Once-ler isn’t interested in telling the story, even though Ted has the correct payment, like in the book. You had to bring 15 cents, a nail, and the shell of a great-great-great grandfather snail. If Ted didn’t bring these items, it would make sense that the Once-ler would tell him to beat it. But he did, so telling Ted to buzz off doesn’t make sense.

Ok, ok, that’s a serious nitpick. Moving on. Let’s look at the Once-ler himself.

Comparison #2: Characterisation and story arc

In the book and the animated special, this is all you ever see of the Once-ler.

good onceler


In the movie, we get…. *sigh* this.



He has a face. And I don’t like it.
What’s wrong with giving the Once-ler a face, I hear you ask?
Because it goes against everything the character represents. Take the book, for example.

You won’t see the Once-ler
Don’t knock at his door
He stays in his Lerkim on top of his store
He lurks in his Lerkim, cold under the roof
Where he makes his own clothes out of miff-muffered moof.

Did you spot the incredibly subtle and nuanced detail there, movie? YOU WON’T. SEE. THE ONCE-LER. The whole idea behind the Once-ler is that he could be anyone. This reinforces the message of personal choices affecting the environment. Why you felt the need to give him a face is beyond me. Was it just too difficult to think how to hide him? You realise you could have saved a lot of paper and animation costs by not giving him a face, right? And even if the Once-ler did reveal his face in the book, would you imagine he’d look anything like that?
And then just to be completely insufferable they make him an idiot with an electric guitar. He’s no longer a single-minded sombre businessman, he’s comic relief in a film that is nothing BUT comic relief. And he doesn’t become consumed by productivity through his own choices, his evil family goes all Lady Macbeth and forces him to cut down the trees. Oh, and he previously promised the Lorax no more trees would be cut down.

I need a bucket. This is making me nauseous.


Definitely my facial expression

And now it’s time to talk about the Lorax. To his credit, Danny Devito is pretty much the perfect choice for the Lorax. He’s the only good voice acting for the movie, but that still comes with a price. The Lorax, again, is turned into a joke we’re supposed to laugh at. He’s given a ridiculously over the top entrance as he emerges from the tree stump. We’re talking thunder and lightning Thor-style. Movie, you do realise that the Lorax was literally the first thing we saw, right?
Anyway, from the second he appears on screen, the Lorax is played entirely for cheap and insulting laughs. He’s not dignified, he’s not wise. Danny Devito is actually perfect for this role, and we know he’s a good actor, but they’re afraid to let him do his thing.
You can pretty much sum up the Lorax’s true character from his first line in the book

Mister,” he said with a sawdusty sneeze
I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,”

It’s just a few words and a simple concept, but Dr Seuss creates more depth in that one line than the entire film.
To be fair, there are one or two moments with the in the movie where Danny Devito really gets to inhabit the Lorax, namely when the final Truffula tree is chopped down. And there’s a very touching moment when all the forest creatures come to mourn the loss of the first tree. If the whole movie had been in this vein, it would have been brilliant. Sadly this scene is undone a few minutes later as the Lorax and his friends toss the sleeping Once-ler into the river, nearly drowning him. Terrific.

I haven’t mentioned the forest creatures yet, trying to delay it as long as possible. Why? Because they are some of the most hateful side characters ever put in a family picture. The Bar-ba-loots are greedy and stupid, the Swomee Swans don’t sing, the Humming fish are annoying….actually, all these characters were insanely annoying. And you know why? Because they’re scrounged from the Minions’ table scraps. I shouldn’t be surprised, considering it’s the same studio and director behind Despicable Me, but damn it, it’s still horrible. Ripping off the Minions only proves the hypocritical corporate greed behind this picture. These characters are just here to market toys. You want to know what Dr Seuss thought about pointless marketing? He went out of his way to avoid it his whole life. A toy company once sent him a box of badly made toys of his characters, and he responded by throwing them into a swimming pool.

By the way, for all their spewing of evil big business, the evil big business responsible for this waste of time managed to collect 70 product tie ins for the movie. 70 product tie-ins. Are you kidding me?!?

Making the forest animals completely moronic and essentially one big toy ad didn’t make me feel emotion for them And it didn’t make me sympathise with their plight. I honestly didn’t care when they are forced to leave. This is partially due to them being constantly infuriating with their antics, but we don’t spend much time with any of these characters and therefore don’t really care about them. Not to mention the important parts of the story are pretty much glanced over.
The Bar-ba-loots, Swomee Swans and Humming Fish are all sent off at once, unlike the book which sends them off one by one and the Once-ler feels pangs of his conscience. What, are we trying to create build up here?
In this 90 minute film, the entire story of The Lorax book, is only told in a 3 minute musical number. That’s right. It’s not even a good song, either. The Once-ler just prances around singing “How bad can I be?” Sounds like the movie producers, actually.
The most important part of The Lorax is the effect of the trees being cut down, and it’s crushed into a bite sized musical montage that again, we’re supposed to find funny rather than disturbing. Let’s ignore the real message. Let’s pad the damn thing out with car chases and zany antics. Oh yes, there’s a car chase in the movie. It goes on for about ten minutes too.

Comparison #3: Climax
At the end of the book, there’s an extremely powerful and poignant climax with the Once-ler handing the boy (essentially, the reader!) the last Truffula seed, and urges them to plant it in the hopes that the Lorax and all of his friends will return.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
Calls the Once-ler
He lets something fall.
It’s a Truffula Seed.
It’s the last one of all!
You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula seeds
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back,”

It’s not a happy ending. It’s not a sad ending. It’s a hopeful ending which leaves the reader with the choice to make this a better world. So, do we get this beautifully ambiguous ending in the movie?
HAHAHA, NO! Not a chance. That would be the adult route. Nope, Ted takes the seed and comes home to find O’Hare waiting for him, gives him the slip and asks Audrey to help him plant the seed in the middle of town so everyone can see, and they spend the next ten minutes being pursued by O’Hare and his minions to stop them planting the tree.

So….what’s at stake here?

Think about it. I’ve heard a few critics say there’s nothing at stake in the climax, and they’re right. If Ted and Audrey don’t grow the seed, so what? Humanity isn’t going to be destroyed. Nobody will die. Nothing will go wrong. Things will just be the way they always were. And humanity is happy with the way things are. Ted and Audrey will apparently be together regardless. So….what’s the problem?

It’s never once insinuated that the oxygen levels are running out, or the town is in danger of being overrun by the destruction outside. They don’t even know about it. And it’s not going to affect them either way. There is nothing on the line here. No reason what so ever for this ridiculous “climax”.
Oh, and the townspeople need about two minutes to completely change their minds and decide that trees are awesome. Much like how the Once-ler turned into a douchebag after one song.

And the absolute worst part about this ending? The Lorax comes back.

That is not a joke.

Dearest cinema gods of heaven and hell, did the writers even read the book?!?

Why did you want to bring him back? Oh that’s right, kids can’t handle a not-so-happy ending. You just had to make everything sunshine and roses, ignoring the sugar-free source material. And even after all this, they STILL can’t go all the way with a soft moment. The Lorax is back, it’s pleasant enough, the music is nice, but nope, then we’re back to making us laugh and ignoring what SHOULD be a huge moment, if it even needed to exist at all. AND IT DIDN’T.

It may not be the worst of the Seuss movies, and the animation is immaculate, but the reason The Lorax makes me the saddest is because this was the book which had the potential to be the easiest and best adaptation of Dr Seuss’ work. Everything was there. The story arc, the potential to expand, the characters, the tone, the world. And they were STILL too scared to trust the source material!

See, The Lorax suffers from the same problems as Horton Hears a Who. It doesn’t believe in its own message and doesn’t want to give the kids a split second of silence in case they high tail it out of the theatre. I am so incredibly sick of seeing these movies that are afraid of atmospheric moments! And again, they spoon feed the comedy in endless, stupid and completely pointless slapstick. If I wanted to see good slapstick, I’d go watch Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes.

They twisted this into a pandering comedy with stupid characters and bad voice acting. They were afraid that a ‘simple kid’s book’ wasn’t enough to tell a good story. They were afraid of their target audience. They didn’t trust in the intelligence of children. They were afraid to give us anything memorable. They were afraid of the truth.
Instead, we got a movie that is brightly coloured junk food for the mind. And that’s the last thing Dr Seuss wanted. Kids are not going to come away from this thinking anything meaningful about nature or the duty we have to this planet. They aren’t going to see the consequences of misplaced priorities or greed. They’re only going to think “Oh, look at the pretty colours and funny bears,” It’s the equivalent of waving keys in their faces.

Dr Seuss’ books are loved for both the writing and his iconic drawings. But you could take out the drawings and STILL have a brilliant book because his writing didn’t depend on pretty colours to distract the children. That’s not what he stood for, and I don’t think anyone else should either.
I’m not going to pretend everything Seuss wrote was perfect. There are books of his that I think are merely ok, or just a fun little romp. But for crying out loud, he always managed to get SOME form of entertainment out of what he did. My only hope is that people actually went and read the damn thing afterwards.

Seuss’ books don’t need to be fixed. They don’t need to be modernised. They don’t necessarily need to be adapted. And especially not like this. Please, for the love of good literature, don’t show your children The Lorax. Don’t expose them to this cash-in. It might seem cute, but that’s not enough.

If you think this movie is poison, like me,
Don’t watch this movie, go plant a tree.
Read the book, watch the special, put your time to good use
My name is AbStar, and I speak for the Seuss.

(Here, I’ll even provide the link. You can thank me later.)

Audio book

1972 version

Seuss on Screen Part 3: The Cat in the Hat

Wind back the clock, if you will, to late 2002. At the time, I’m ten years old. I’m in the movie theatre foyer and I can’t remember what we were going to see. Now, I’m looking around at all the posters advertising new movies, when a giant cardboard cut out made me jump in terror.

The cut out? The Cat in the Hat. You could only see a tiny bit of the Cat, but it gave me chills. This should have been my first sign of impending doom.

It wasn’t.

After my heart stilled, I began to smile at the thought of a Cat in the Hat movie. I loved the book. I loved the sequel. Mike Myers was going to be the Cat? Sure, he was funny. After The Grinch, what could be better? Oh, how wrong I was.

To say this movie failed hard would be one of the biggest understatements ever made. It’s not just bad, it’s horrifying. I still feel unclean for having seen it. It’s not only the worst of the Seuss movies, up against some pretty stiff competition, it’s one of the worst book-to-film re-imaginings in the history of mankind. It’s so famously awful, it prompted Dr Seuss’ widow to ban all live action adaptations of her husband’s work.


As always, let’s begin with the source material. The Cat in the Hat was written in 1957 in response to America’s crippling illiteracy rate among children, and their learn-to-read books known as ‘primers’. Dr Seuss believed children were not reading because their books such as the Dick and Jane series, were dead boring. The characters and stories were unnaturally perfect, therefore not interesting or relatable.
Author William Spaulding invited Seuss to dinner in 1955 and presented him with a challenge: write a book kids couldn’t put down. He gave Seuss a list of 348 words every child should know (Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat using 236 words). Seuss conceived of the idea for the story by scanning the list he had been given and chose the first two words that rhymed. Cat and hat were the winners.

Overall, Cat in the Hat is a fun little book. It’s not particularly story driven (therefore not the best choice for a movie, but I’ll get to that) but the characters are great, the power struggle between the Fish and the Cat is enjoyable, and the children are normal children. Most children would read this and probably not realise they were learning new words, which is the whole point. And the message? “It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how,” In other words, fun is not a bad thing. A little mischief is fine, as long as it doesn’t goes too far and you can clean up at the end. And that’s the beauty of Seuss’ writing. He even reportedly said to his first wife Helen “What’s wrong with kids having fun reading without being preached at?”

Like I said above, Cat in the Hat is one of the hardest adaptations to pull off than something like The Grinch or The Lorax, but it’s not impossible. Think of all the possibilities with the Cat and the potential for wild, imaginative scenarios. I keep hearing there’s going to be an animated remake of the movie at some point and while my hopes are not high, I’d like to believe it could be better than…this.


What were they thinking?

Let’s get this over with.

Mike Myers plays the Cat in a phenomenally failed performance. He is horribly miscast, although to be fair I don’t think ANY actor could have made this script work. Same goes for the other actors in this movie. Spencer Breslin and Dakota Fanning as Conrad and Sally are blander than rice cakes, Kelly Preston is more fragile than a porcelain doll and Alec Baldwin is so cartoonishly evil I’m surprised he doesn’t have a moustache to twirl.
I’m not necessarily blaming the cast for their performances; like I said, the script is atrocious. This movie is a failure on everyone’s part, especially the studio behind it. Whoever wrote this needs a smack in the face with a brick and a lesson on writing good scripts. These characters are just so terribly developed. Sally and Conrad? Good grief, they’re both walking stereotypes. The kids in the book were just normal children. That’s why the moral about a little mischief being okay is still balanced out with responsibility. Here, Conrad’s out of control, though it’s never explained why, and Sally’s only interested in bossing everyone around (again, never explained why). Stereotypes are not a good starting point for character arcs!
The mother? Total wet wipe. She’s dull as a bucket of rocks and a complete idiot for not seeing Alec Baldwin’s lies. Who lets their boyfriend talk them into considering military school? That doesn’t even make any sense!
Speaking of Alec Baldwin, talk about weak characterisation. He might as well be wearing a sign saying I AM THE ANTAGONIST. And while I’m on the subject, why does this movie even NEED an antagonist? If you’re going to add one in, at least make them interesting! This one is completely one note. He has the flimsiest of excuses for existing in the first place, and don’t even bother with motivations for getting rid of the children. The writers forgot to give him one. He apparently just doesn’t like kids. Big deal. So why would he even want to marry a woman with two kids?

The Fish is completely shoved to the side in favour of the Cat’s zany antics, and you can forget about his established existence as the voice of reason. He’s just a nervous nelly played entirely for laughs and only appearing when the plot remembers he’s supposed to be there. The babysitter who slips into a coma five minutes in? Completely pointless. There’s really nothing to even say about her.

And now, let’s get to the Cat himself.
I get that the Cat is the Seuss mascot, and the book is very simply written. But there’s expanding on a character and there’s making him a total raving maniac. You’d never read the book and think the Cat was a sociopath like he is in the movie. The Cat is meant to be fun and mischievous, not spouting R-rated jokes and running around laughing like an axe murderer. That’s not what the Cat is about.


An adaptation done right

If you want to an example of expanding on a character while still being true to the source material, look at the 1971 animated special. To be fair, Dr Seuss wrote the teleplay for this one, so it would make sense that all changes work well. But let’s put that aside and look at the Cat.
He comes in, the fish panics and tells him to go. The Cat leaves, then charges back in saying he’s lost his moss-covered three-handled family gradunza and asks the kids to help him find it, therefore tricking them into making a mess.
The best comparison I can draw to the Cat in this is perhaps Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. Remember how he was whimsical, elegant and fun, but also had a slightly diabolical edge? You didn’t know what he was thinking, but you did know he’d already planned out every step of the journey. And that’s the sense you get with the 1971 Cat. Voice actor Allan Sherman really does a great job, giving the perfect blend of delightfully wicked and whimsy. You never get the sense that he’s straight up evil though. Unlike Myers, who’s more interested in making terrible jokes and grinning at the audience. Plus, the stuff he gets into is just way too crazy and mean! It goes beyond the realm of harmless fun and straight into borderline criminal activity. I don’t know who came up with this, but I’m prepared to bet they were dropped.

I should point out that the director of the movie is Bo Welch, a production designer who’s worked on a lot of Tim Burton films. And I will say, the sets in the movie do look very nice. The costuming and makeup? Designed with an Etch-A-Sketch and fed through a threshing machine. That’s the nicest possible way I can put it.
At least in The Grinch the makeup looked like the character. I had no trouble believing it was the Grinch on screen. And also, as I said in my last review Jim Carrey was able to physically and facially work with the restrictions of the makeup and costume.
As for Cat in the Hat, while the production design might have been nice, the costuming and makeup were not, and this is reflected in the performances. Mike Myers simply didn’t have the physical or expressive ability to make that costume work. And there’s a special place in movie hell for the people who designed that makeup/suit, because it’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
By the way, you’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Thing One and Thing Two. And there’s a reason for that. I won’t sleep for weeks if I lay eyes on them again.

burn it


Poor characters and terrifying visuals, how is the story itself?
You’ll be sorry you asked.
To say they deviated from the source material would be like calling a tornado a ‘slight breeze’. Even as an eleven year old in the theatre watching this train wreck I distinctly remember thinking it was being pretty unfaithful to the book. I didn’t even think they could pull of a sequel because they used the entire driving plot point of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. After the movie I said to my brother it was 2% accurate to the original. And if an eleven year old can pick that up, you are in trouble, movie.

Instead of being about kids learning to have fun in a healthy manner, there’s forced social commentary which has no development or is even that interesting. There’s very little rhyming which, hello, is what Dr Seuss is best remembered for. We don’t care about the characters, so nobody is concerned how they solve what little problems they have. The Cat is too scary to look at, no human could sleep like that babysitter does and there’s no point in having the box be a gateway into another world. And let’s be honest, that plot thread was only there to make that truly horrific advertisement for Universal Studios.


You are dead to me, movie

Directly advertising, holding up brouchures and saying “Cha-ching”? That is hitting a new low. It’s the single biggest sell-out ever put on screen. And that includes the product placement in Man of Steel.
Don’t even get me started on the adult ‘humour’. Honestly, what was the point of the sexual innuendo and bad language in a freaking Dr. Seuss movie? There is no point, and no way to make it work.
The blatant disrespect shown in the movie only proves that the filmmakers don’t understand the source material. They see it as a ‘simple kid’s book’, so it’s not like they actually have to try. How could a ‘simple kid’s book’ possibly say anything deep or meaningful?

Well, I have news for you, movie. A lot of junior reading material is not only deep, it can also be far deeper than a lot of adult writing. Dr Seuss understood this and he treated children as thinking human beings. One of my favourite Seuss quotes? “Adults are just obsolete children and to hell with them,”  
Seeing this movie makes me understand what he means. Adults often forget what it’s like to be a child and therefore underestimate them. Underestimate their intelligence. Their understanding. Their capacity to learn. I guarantee Seuss would be saying the same thing today about this movie and the people who made it so poorly.

Normally, I will at least attempt to see the good in something. The only good thing in this movie? The production design. That’s it. It fails on every other level, and I almost reached my breaking point while suffering through it.
You can argue that The Grinch wasn’t faithful to the original story. But for all it’s flaws, The Grinch is still its own universe and creation. It’s not a money-grabbing corporation shill. There’s still a moral and at the very, very least, an attempt to tell a story.
Cat in the Hat doesn’t just disrespect Dr. Seuss, it is straight up spitting on his grave. I cannot even comprehend the mindset of the people responsible for it. Even taking out the fact that it’s insulting to Seuss’ work, it’s still the cheapest and most obnoxious of corporate cash ins ever committed to celluloid. There is no respect for the source material, the audience, the message or anything. It’s just there to suck out everything that’s good and pure and decent about humanity.

I don’t even know what else there is to say about it. If I could, I would personally hunt down every copy of this…thing, shatter them with a moss-covered three-handled family gradunza and set them alight.
But I can’t. So all I can do is say avoid this movie like the freaking plague. For crying out loud, do NOT expose yourselves or vulnerable children to it. Read the book, watch the animated special, go to the Seuss land at Universal Studios for all I care. Just stay the heck away from Cat in the Hat. Stay. Away.

Next week: The Lorax