Tag Archives: Dr Seuss

Top 10 Dr Seuss books

March 2nd, 2016 marks Theodore Seuss Geisel’s 112th birthday. As my regular readers and friends will know all too well, Dr Seuss is my all-time favourite writer. The master of rhyme and rhythm, he inspires imagination through endearing morals, clever words and his signature art style. He made reading fun for generations of children.
As a child, I devoured his books. He felt like a friend to me. Now in my glorious early twenties, I love his books more than ever.

Dr Seuss believed in the intelligence of children and treated them as equals. “I write for myself,” he once said. “Children are just as smart as you are. The main difference is they don’t know so many words. If your story is simple, you can tell it just as if you’re telling it to adults,” 
With this in mind and in honour of Dr Seuss’ birthday, here are my ten favourite Dr Seuss books.

10. Horton Hatches the Egg (1940)/Horton Hears a Who! (1954)

In Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton the elephant is scammed by a bird named Mayzie into sitting on her egg while she takes a vacation (she doesn’t return). Horton is mocked by the Jungle of Nool and ends up being sold to a circus. However, he is unwavering in his resolve, saying “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.”
Seuss came up with the concept for the book when he left a window open in his office one day and returned to find a transparent sketch of an elephant had blown onto a tree. 
The titular elephant made a reappearance in the sequel, Horton Hears a Who! Horton hears the tiny planet of Who on a dust speck, and swear to protect him, despite the entire Jungle of Nool believing Horton to be insane. It’s a common belief that the story was a comment on abortion, but it was actually about how the Japanese were treated post WWII. Seuss was very active during the war with drawing propaganda cartoons. As the grandson of German immigrants, Seuss was very keen to prove his patriotism. When a pro-life group used Horton’s line “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” for their campaigns, Seuss was enraged and received a retraction from the group.
Overall, these are two very basic moral stories which even adults can learn from. Horton is a great role model, there’s a lot of creativity in the narratives and Seuss doesn’t shy away from drama and comedy, knowing exactly where and how to mix both.
Of course, there was a very sub-par film adaption starring Jim Carrey in 2008, and if you haven’t already read my thoughts on the movie, you can check it out here.

9. Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (1958)
yertle-the-turtle-and-other-stories

The chaplain at my second high school was a massive Dr Seuss fan, and sometimes he’d use the books in Scripture class. That’s where I first discovered this gem. Yertle the Turtle, possibly the greatest middle finger to Hitler ever, tells a great story of King Yertle who forces his turtle subjects to stack on top of his rock so he can be king of “all that he sees”. Of course, the lone turtle at the very bottom, Mack, stands up and topples the chair over, leaving Yertle to be king of the mud.

It’s an allegory to Nazi Germany, but in all seriousness, Yertle could be applied to a number of people and situations. Yertle is every bullying monster with delusions of grandeur and a sense of entitlement the size of the Soviet union.

Can’t imagine who this could apply to. At all.

images (19)

 

When a message is based on a historical event, yet is hidden enough to be unnoticeable and still holds up sixty odd years later, that’s the sign of a skilled and wise writer.

Gertrude McFuzz and The Big Brag deal with themes of vanity, self-image and the futility of comparing yourself to others. All three are great stories and considering how long I searched to find a copy of the book, I’d say it’s definitely worthy of a spot on the list.

8. There’s a Wocket in my Pocket! (1974)

wocket

In this book, Dr Seuss shows his wildly creative drawing and rhyming style. I remember reading this book as a little girl and laughing out loud at the absurdity of these creatures living in this house. Frankly I don’t think I’d mind having a Noothgrush on my toothbrush.

With a title like that, at first glance it would appear this was a hilarious mistake, but personally I doubt that very much. Though known and revered for his unique take on the English language, Seuss was in reality a quiet man of few words, preferring to let the work speak for itself. This didn’t stop him from having a very wicked sense of humour however. To ensure his editors were actually paying attention, he inserted an extra page into the manuscript of Dr Seuss’ ABC. For the letter X, a large-chested woman brandished the words

Big X, little x,
X, X, X
Some day, kiddies, you will learn about SEX.

A note scrawled in the corner read “If Bob Bernstein sees any sales problems inherent in this concept, I won’t object to substituting my alternative suggestion. Signed, T.S.G”
Another time, at an event in a large department store, Seuss grew weary of the crowd and vanished. He was found in the women’s shoe section, marking down the prices.

7. The Cat in the Hat (1957)/The Cat in the Hat Comes Back! (1958)

Doubtless the titular character is the Seuss mascot, instantly recognisable to all. Both books written to address the crippling illiteracy in young people, Seuss created a highly memorable and fun book while still managing to be educational. Too bad the movie was not.
“Hollywood is not suited to me, and I am not suited to it,”  Seuss said after the disaster of The 5000 Fingers of Dr T, the only feature film of his work made in his lifetime.
Seuss himself may have known this. Sadly, Hollywood has not learned. After that trainwreck film adaptation in 2003, which I absolutely ripped to shreds, Audrey Geisel (Ted’s widow) refused to allow any more live action films of her husband’s work.

6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1982)
grinchcover

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! One of the most iconic Christmas villains based on Seuss himself, the Grinch has ingrained himself in the holiday season.
The movie isn’t perfect, but as I’ve said before, it’s a guilty pleasure.

5. Green Eggs and Ham (1960)
greeneggsandham

As if I even need to go into much detail. If there’s anyone who hasn’t read this book I haven’t met them.

Green Eggs and Ham came around when Seuss’ publisher Bennet Cerf bet Seuss $50 that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. It took him a year but considering it remains one of the highest selling books ever and still has a good message about trying new things, I’d say Seuss won that bet.

If you’re wondering, the 50 words are:

A, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs,fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

For the record, Bennet Cerf never paid up.

4. The Butter Battle Book (1984)

The_Butter_Battle_Book_cover
Now, I doubt many of you have ever read or even heard of this book. It was rather controversial and copies of it are very hard to find but trust me, it’s one of Seuss’ finest.

The Yooks and Zooks are fighting a terrible war….over, you guessed it, butter. The Yooks eat bread butter side up while the Zooks commit the terrible crime of eating bread with the butter side down. Gasp! Both sides despise and mistrust the other while vying to build bigger and better weapons to deter their enemy. But this ends in an unresolved climax with the leaders of both armies trying to drop highly destructive bombs on the opposite town.

As you might have figured out, the book is a not-so-subtle stab at the Cold War. The satire is obvious, as is the message. But when viewed from this perspective, we are once again reminded of how futile a lot of conflict is.

If you can manage to get a copy give this a read, watch the animated special or listen to the audio book. You’ll likely end with chills.

3. I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew (1965)

sollasollew

After a very bad day filled with various troubles, our unnamed protagonist is invited to move to Solla Sollew, where troubles are few. He proceeds to travel along with a variety of companions, each getting him into worse scrapes and detours as time goes on. The only thing sustaining him is the thought of finally reaching the paradise of Solla Sollew.

I read this book at the age of about eight and I still remember every bit of emotion as I turned the pages. And it has stayed with me ever since. This might not be the most original of stories. We’ve all seen road trips and travels. But it’s what Seuss does with the storytelling that makes it so powerful. Speaking of which, the ending is so perfect I will not dare spoil it for you. It has to be read to be fully appreciated.

So what are you waiting for? Get your hands on this gem and read it!

2. The Lorax (1971)

the-lorax

I must admit, when I first picked up The Lorax, I had my doubts. I grew up watching Captain Planet and Pocahontas, and overall I’m not exactly fond of environmental themed media. Thankfully this is a shining example of subtlety and brilliant writing, making everyone who reads it come away with an unshakeable realisation of how fragile life is. It’s a sad and grim warning of greed and misplaced priorities without pointing the finger of blame and anyone in particular. There’s no villain, just characters. The ambiguous nature and truth of the story brings people back over and over with the choices they can make. There’s no question. This book is about as flawless an environmental and morality tale as you can ever find. 

And while the 2012 film adaptation isn’t as bad as Cat in the Hat, it’s definitely the one I hated the most, and for good reason.

 

The time has come to unveil my favourite book by my favourite author. But first, some honourable mentions.

Honourable Mentions

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960)

one-fish-two-fish-red-fish-blue-fish.jpg“If you never did, you should.
These things are fun, and fun is good,”

Fox in Socks (1965)

fox-in-socks

When tweetle beetles fight, it’s called a tweetle beetle battle
And when they battle in a puddle, it’s a tweetle beetle puddle battle

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (1973)

how lucky you are

“When the news is all bad, when you feel sour and blue,
When you start to get mad, you should do what I do.
Just tell yourself Duckie, you’re really quite lucky.
Some people are much more, ever so much more,
Oh muchly-much-much more unlucky than you!”

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (1937)*
mulberrystreet.jpg

“That can’t be my story. That’s only a start.
I’ll say that a zebra was pulling the cart!”
*Seuss’ first book, rejected by 27 publishers. He was on his way home to burn the manuscript when he ran into an old friend who worked in publishing. Seuss said if he’d walked on the other side of the street that day, he would have ended up in the dry cleaning business.
I’m very glad he didn’t.

McElligot’s Pool (1947)

itspossible.jpeg

“Oh the sea is so full of a number of fish.
If a fellow is patient, he MIGHT get his wish,
And that’s why I think that I’m not such a fool,
When I sit here and fish in McElligot’s pool!”

 

1. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! (1990)

oh-the-places-you-ll-go.jpg

Is it a coincidence that my favourite Dr Seuss book is the final one published in his lifetime? Probably not.

This book is a masterpiece and I will argue this til my dying day. Written in second person, the reader is the protagonist receving commentary and advice on the journey of life.

How often do you see that?

This was the farewell message Dr Seuss wanted to leave to the world. He is open and honest about the ups and downs of being human. He doesn’t shy away from reality. He is completely honest that life is not easy. Not everything turns out the way you expect or want. But at the same time, he gives a message or hope and encouragement. 

The book is again very high on the all time best sellers list, with sales going up around graduation season every year. I myself used this book as the basis for my graduating recital when I finished my music theatre degree in 2014. I know people who read this book not only to their children, but to adults as well.

I’m not kidding when I say everybody needs to read this book regardless of age. It’s a masterpiece of writing. It showcases Dr Seuss’ infinite wisdom to absolute perfection. I still re-read this book whenever I’m feeling down. It always manages to give me a lift. It remains not only at the top of my list here but also on my favourite books of all time.

“On and on you will hike and I know you’ll hike far, and face up to your problems, whatever they are.”

Next week: What’s happening to Australian theatre?

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
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.

town

This is what Thneedville looks like in the film.

thneedville

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.

tedandaudrey.jpg

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.

O'hare1

“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)

EXHIBIT A
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.

EXHIBIT B
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

Right

In the movie, we get…. *sigh* this.

badonceler

No

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.

loraxmad

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.
So….CATCH!”
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKmbSJjXzFk

1972 version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8V06ZOQuo0k

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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BURN IT! SEND IT TO HELL! KILL IT BEFORE IT DIES!!!

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.

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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

Seuss on Screen Part 2: The Grinch

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot
But the Grinch who lived just north of Whoville did not”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas directed by Ron Howard, was one of the biggest hits of 2000. And while audiences loved it at the time, critical reaction was lukewarm. The general critical consensus seemed to be that Jim Carrey was entertaining in the title role, but it didn’t meet the standard of Chuck Jones’ famous cartoon from 1966. Or the book, for that matter.

I was only eight years old when the movie first came out, and I didn’t see it, because I’d heard my younger cousin was terrified of the film and therefore thought it would be scary. But a few months later, I was home from school, incredibly sick, and my Mum rented the VHS (remember those days?) thinking it would give me a laugh. And by Seuss, I fell in love with the movie. I laughed myself better. Thank you for that, movie.
After watching it over and over for a few years, I put the movie aside, and just before Christmas 2014, I watched it again. Without the nostalgia goggles on, I was able to see the flaws of the film. But I still found myself enjoying it quite a bit.

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But first, the source material. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is Ted Geisel’s 1957 book about an odd grouchy creature who despises Christmas, and the Whos in Whoville who adore the season. He decides enough is enough and vows to stop the holiday from coming. The Grinch dresses as Santa Claus and steals the presents, food and decorations from the town, only to find that the Whos are still happy to celebrate Christmas without the material objects. He realises where the true meaning of Christmas lies, and returns everything to the town’s welcoming arms and even joins in the festivities. It’s a very iconic story, and the Grinch has been cemented in pop culture as one of the great villains of Christmas.

Interestingly enough, the Grinch character was based on….well, Dr Seuss himself! Realising he was becoming a bit of a Grinch, he wrote the book to see if he could rediscover the magic of the holiday. The only clue to this connection in the book is the Grinch saying “Why, fifty three years I’ve put up with it now!” and Seuss was 53 when the book was published. He even drove a car with GRINCH number plates.

As a whole, The Grinch is one of the most story-driven of Seuss’ books, far more so than something like Cat in the Hat. The strength of the story comes from the moral, and the main character. Seuss’ bold choice to have the villain of the piece also be the protagonist makes for a very fun journey as he finds his redemption alongside the readers. The message is very anti-consumerism, and reminds all who read it that the true spirit of Christmas comes from love and togetherness.

Therefore, The Grinch is one of the easiest to adapt to screen. The 1966 special was the first animated adaptation of Seuss’ works. Seuss himself was very involved in the making of the piece, not only producing but also writing the lyrics for the songs. The cartoon was decently received upon premiere, but has since gone on to be recognised as a classic of the genre.

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Definitely not for his charming good looks

Again, it probably wasn’t necessary to remake this, but to Ron Howard’s credit, he said he wouldn’t even try to retell the animated short, since it was already perfect. And for what the movie is, it’s actually ok. At least for my taste. Sure, there’s a lot of choices that are questionable, but I still like the film. What do I mean? Let’s take a look.

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First, I’ll take the elephant out of the room by saying I really like Jim Carrey as the Grinch. It’s not a perfect performance (what is) but he gives it his all, as usual. Carrey has said in interviews that the makeup was “horrifying” and he was taught torture resistant techniques by the CIA to endure filming. To his everlasting credit, you’d never be able to tell. Jim Carrey’s famously expressive face was able to work through all that makeup (by the way, the makeup in the film is incredible!) and physically, he owns that costume and works with it. Seriously, go watch the movie again and see how effortlessly he acts as the Grinch. It never appears uncomfortable or awkward, though it must have been a nightmare. Kudos to Carrey for being so professional. 6-year-old Taylor Momsen, carries the role of Cindy Lou with a lot of charm and the rest of the cast are fun and quirky in their own way. So, I have nothing against the acting.

Now, the writing. Most criticism aimed at The Grinch comes from the expansion of the story. Before I go in too deep, there’s two things I should note. Number one, it’s a feature length film. It’s a different medium and someone with a different vision at the helm. Changes to books aren’t just inevitable, they are necessary. Number two, changes are fine as long as they serve the story or at least respect the basic source material. And while some choices here may be misguided, they’re still understandable.

In the film, the Whos are more developed. As well as being obsessed by the holiday, they are materialistic and competitive. Some might disagree with this choice, as the Whos seem a bit unsavoury and mean, but this change gives them a story arc alongside the Grinch.

The Grinch is given a backstory which explains why he hates Christmas. He was mocked at school during a Christmas gift exchange, and that was that. Whether or not that makes sense is up for debate, but it’s still a reason. Of course, his heart is two sizes too small, but having another explanation makes him more three dimensional in the world of the movie.

I will say this, though. Despite being a clever idea for a character arc, the Whos can be quite mean-spirited, especially at the Whobiliation Christmas party, and therefore are hard to sympathise with. So for the movie, perhaps an alternative could have been the Grinch needing to realise people can change as they grow up, and the Whos needing to realise the pain they had caused him. But I’m just speculating.

As for Cindy Lou, her role is hugely expanded. In the book, she only appears once while the Grinch steals the Christmas tree. In the film, Cindy Lou is the only one who senses that Christmas is more than just gifts and lights. She is also the only one willing to see The Grinch as…..for lack of a better term, a person, the only one brave enough to talk to him, and the only one willing to give him a chance and include him. Her spirit encourages the town to a new way of thinking and essentially brings the Grinch around. In this way, she’s given a lot of respect by the writers. It just goes to show Seuss’ belief that children are just as smart as adults.

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The first two acts of The Grinch focus on Cindy Lou trying to convince the Grinch to come down from Mount Crumpit and urging Whoville to accept him. None of that is in the book, but it allows for character development and the audience can become immersed in this world. The third act is practically identical to the book, and narration by the legendary Anthony Hopkins throughout the whole thing ties it all together nicely. I might add, the narration is almost verbatim.

All that being said, how does the film hold up after 15 years? Well, it does and it doesn’t. The film’s main shortcomings are in the design department and the characterisation of the Whos, to a degree. Whoville isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as it could be. Visually, the colours are too muted and there’s a lot going on so it all becomes a bit crowded. I’m not personally put off by the Whos’ heavy makeup but I can certainly see why others would be. And like I said, some of the Whos, like the Mayor, are too nasty to be likeable.

Even after all these years, I find The Grinch to be a very funny movie, no small thanks to Jim Carrey. I like the characters, I like the atmosphere and I like the comedy. This isn’t a corporate cash-grab at all. Some of the story choices are a little misguided but I believe they are done with the purest of intentions. The movie seems to be its own creation, and still has a moral. Every change made to the story still matches the vision and tone of the film, and at least goes all the way.

Is the film perfect? No.
Are there elements that don’t work? Absolutely.
As a Seuss purist, I probably shouldn’t like The Grinch, since it isn’t 100% faithful to the book. But this doesn’t make it a bad movie. Sure, it’s got it’s major problems, but I think you can call it my guilty pleasure, and it will always make me laugh. Take my thoughts for what it’s worth and draw your own conclusion.

Next week: The Cat in the Hat

Seuss on Screen Part 1: Horton Hears a Who

Is everyone happy now? I caved. I watched Horton Hears a Who. The one Dr Seuss movie I was yet to see. I bought it from Kmart for $9, I sat down with an open mind and pressed play.

Is it good? No. Is it bad? Well…..it’s certainly not horrible. It’s probably the least awful of the Seuss adaptations. But that doesn’t make it a good movie.

Dr Seuss’ work has not been treated kindly by the film industry, with a total of 4 feature length movies based incredibly loosely on his works. The movies began with The Grinch in 2000, The Cat in the Hat infamously portrayed by Mike Myers in 2003, 2008’s Horton Hears a Who and most recently, The Lorax in 2012. Why do these movies, for the most part, fail so spectacularly in bringing the world of Seuss to life?

As a die-hard Seussian, I’m determined to find out. This is my Seuss on Screen series, starting with Horton Hears a Who.

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First, let’s look at the source material. Published in 1954, Horton Hears a Who was actually the second appearance of the titular character, having already starred in 1940’s Horton Hatches the Egg. Horton Hears a Who follows Horton the elephant as he hears the tiny planet of Whoville on a speck of dust. Horton is the only animal in the Jungle of Nool able to hear the Whos. Wishing to protect this tiny population, Horton places the dust speck on a clover, despite the Sour Kangaroo and the Jungle of Nool believing Horton to be out of his mind. Horton stands by his mantra “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” and eventually the Whos are able to prove their existence before being destroyed.

After the success of Horton Hatches the Egg, the sequel came about when Seuss visited Japan post WWII. Having drawn multitudes of political cartoons during the war, Seuss was quite anti-Japanese, but visiting Hiroshima changed his mind dramatically, and he wrote the book as an allegory to how the Japanese were treated in the post-war years. It was even dedicated to a Japanese friend.

It’s a common misconception that the story is a comment on abortion, and several pro-life groups have used the famous line “a person’s a person no matter how small” much to Seuss’ anger. If there’s one thing he hated, it was people twisting his words and stories for their own ends. I shudder to think what he’d do if he saw some of these films…..

The themes of Horton Hears a Who are pretty straightforward. It’s a simple message of looking out for the little guy and opening your mind to believing in something you can’t always see. Easy enough. There’s a fair bit of drama, with the Wickersham brothers and Vlad Vlad-i-koff forcing Horton to search for the clover in a giant field of identical flowers, then the Sour Kangaroo trying to boil the speck in a vat of beezlenut oil. The villains get their redemption, and they’re still not evil. You can definitely see their point of view. The Whos are a creative concept, they’re relateable as the underdogs, and Horton teaches kids to stand by their convictions even if no-one else supports you.

Making a movie out of this doesn’t seem necessary, but there’s still potential in it to be a fun little family film. Sadly, what we got doesn’t meet the mark in all areas.

A major issue I have with the film is the message is totally glanced over. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still there, and that’s great, but it’s constantly shoved aside to make the kids laugh. And nowhere is this more obvious than the characterisation of Horton himself.

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Look at that grin. Kill me now.

In the books, Horton is, at the core, a simple elephant of principle. He’s gentle, kind, loyal and a good role model. He’s engaging and admirable, and both his stories form the basis for the musical Seussical. He is the only one who can hear the Whos, and even at first he’s not sure he did. But on the off chance that there is someone, he does a noble thing and protects the dust speck. Everyone says he’s insane, but he keeps with the clover. In Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton agrees to sit on Mayzie’s egg for a day, but she doesn’t come back. He sticks with the egg for 51 lonely weeks, is laughed at, and gets sold to a circus. But he doesn’t give up, constantly saying “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent,” What wonderful messages to teach kids, and adults too!

In the film, Horton is voiced by Jim Carrey. And heavens alive, is he miscast. I’ve loved Jim Carrey in other projects, but he’s just not right for Horton, or at least, the correct character of Horton. In the film, Horton is made into something of a hyperactive eccentric, and it’s incredibly distracting. I have no problem with the writers giving Horton a bit of a quirky edge to make him more interesting, or give the jungle creatures a reason to mistrust him, but this is downright silly. I imagine they’re trying to do what Carrey did with the Grinch, which worked ok. The Grinch is a grouchy social recluse, so it makes sense that he would be strange. Whereas Horton isn’t meant to be crazy and weird, he’s just a normal elephant. If that makes sense. I mean, I don’t know many elephants personally so I can’t……but I’m sure most elephants are…..

THE POINT IS that making Horton a nutjob is going against what he is. And they’ve done exactly the same thing with the Mayor of Whoville. Steve Carrell, who actually does a pretty good job, is also an knucklehead mcspazatron. Sure, he has a few moments of substance when he isn’t spouting tell-don’t-show dialogue, but he’s clumsy, odd and constantly battling with the evil government who just doesn’t want to believe him about Horton.

Quite honestly, the idea that the Who’s also are skeptical about being a dust speck is a pretty clever idea. It’s what Dr Seuss added to the animated Chuck Jones special back in 1970. But did we really need the big bad establishment? Isn’t a skeptical population enough? Apparently not.

I think of all the voice acting and characters, the best choice by far was Carol Burnett as the Sour Kangaroo. She’s easily the most faithful to the book. The other characters are far too wacky to be relateable, and because they’re constantly played for cheap laughs, the seriousness of the story is severely watered down.

And the pacing. Oh, the pacing.

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To the film’s credit, visually, the book comes to life. Animation is a much more suitable medium for Dr Seuss’ work than live action, and they take full advantage of it. The film looks great, especially the world created for Whoville.  However, I fear that this made the filmmakers panic, and worried about how to best engage the children for eighty minutes. So do they really explore the idea of opening your eyes to what isn’t obvious? No. Ok, do they go into depth on the world of Whoville and make us really connect with these tiny people so we care about them? No. Do we see Horton struggle with being shunned? Nope. We get a bunch of zany antics and cheesy slapstick from beginning to end. I’m serious. I couldn’t count one quiet moment in the film. Animation may give you more freedom to make bold choices, but it isn’t a license to give us all seizures. Horton is crazy. The Mayor is crazy. The Whos are all crazy. The Jungle of Nool is crazy. It’s constant movement, noise, and action for the sake of having things flying by on screen. And the anime references? Why? I just straight up don’t get the purpose of that sequence. It made no sense and the film grounded to a halt! And you know why the movie is loud and borderline obnoxious?

Because the movie is afraid that if they pause for a microsecond the kids will fall asleep.

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Where were the Wickershams?

There’s a widespread belief that children’s entertainment needs to be constantly loud and energetic because kids have short attention spans. And they do, but this approach is completely counterproductive. This is such a dumb concept I don’t even know where to begin saying what’s wrong with it. It’s not only okay to have quiet moments in children’s entertainment, it’s actually important. Children need it to teach them patience and how to appreciate atmosphere. Look at the scene in Mary Poppins where Mr Banks walks down the streets of London. No dialogue, no singing, just some incredible shots of the city and a beautiful instrumental underscore of Feed the Birds. It’s one of the most heavy and adult scenes in a family picture, and it’s one of the most beloved movies of all time.

There was a glimmer of hope at the very end when the Sour Kangaroo realises what she’s done and Horton very graciously forgives her. Finally, it appears we can have a moment! No words necessary, all done through visuals and music and…..nope, Vlad Vlad-i-koff has to loudly point out that this is a touching moment and starts crying in the most obnoxious fashion imaginable. That’s the entire summation of where Horton Hears a Who falls flat as a picture. It is afraid of it’s own message. It shoves it to the side so the kids can keep giggling at the slapstick. The comedy is spoon fed to the audience. There’s a few clever moments, but for the most part I could predict the punchline to almost every joke. The characters are all in the same vein so there’s no variety. The tone is constantly loud and bizarre which sucks out the weight of the message. They’re afraid to see the target audience as thinking human beings who deserve to be treated as such.

It’s definitely not a terrible movie and I don’t think I’d encourage people to boycott the film. It’s relatively harmless. I disagree with the overall tone, but it probably is the closest to Seuss’ world being realised on film as we’re likely to get. But it’s worth remembering what Dr Seuss’ mindset was about children:

I write for myself. Children are just as smart as you are. The main difference is they don’t know so many words. If your story is simple, you can tell it just as if you’re telling it to adults,”

Horton may have been a critical and financial success, but as for me, I will always revere the book on my shelf.

Next week: The Grinch!