Friday, March 2, 2012

5 Dr. Seuss Adaptations I Want to See

"The Lorax" opened today, and the reviews have been mixed, but not bad, and the box office returns should be decent. I'm not crazy about the marketing tactics or all the celebrity voices, but I hope the film does well. I'm very fond of Dr. Seuss and there are several of his books that I think would make good children's features. In fact, I'm surprised the filmmakers went with "The Lorax," which has such a strong environmentalist message, that they must have known was going to get them in trouble. Anyway, the guys at Illumination Studios seem to have the Seuss visual style down pat, and I'd love to see them tackle some of the following Seuss stories next:

"The Butter Battle Book" - One of the problems with the Seuss adaptations so far is that they've all been based on such short stories, picture books that only take a few minutes to read. "The Butter Battle Book" is a slightly more substantial one, about the Yooks and the Zooks who have almost identical societies, except that one likes to eat their bread with the buttered side up, and one prefers the buttered side down. They allow the one small difference to become a reason to hate each other, which escalates into a Seussian allegory for the Cold War. The messages still ring true, however, and the narrative is strong enough that it could be expanded much more naturally without so much obvious padding.

"Bartholomew and the Oobleck" - Bartholomew first appeared in "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins," but his encounter with the oobleck would be much more interesting to see onscreen. It's a "be careful what you wish for" story of the King of Didd, who wants a new kind of weather, different from than the same old rain, snow, sun, and fog. He gets his wish in the form of ooblek, an unpleasant green goop that predictably causes havoc when it starts falling from the sky. Only the king's page, Bartholomew, has the good sense to figure out how to stop it. Actually, you could do both books together in one movie. Maybe "The King's Stilts" too, which is also about the adventures of a little boy and an eccentric king.

"The Cat in the Hat" - I think it's been long enough since that terrible live action Mike Myers movie to start thinking about another version of "The Cat in the Hat." This one would take some work, though, because the "Cat in the Hat" books don't exactly operate by conventional narratives, and shoehorning the character into one can lead to bad results. However, there is a lot of material for filmmakers to draw from. In addition to "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back," he also appeared in an animated television special that Dr. Seuss wrote with a different plot than either of the books. The Cat in the Hat is also a figure who pops up in a lot of Seuss's other work, which brings us to...

"Daisy-Head Mayzie" - Billed as a long lost Seuss manuscript when it was published posthumously in the '90s, "Mayzie" got a lot of attention when it first appeared, and is already a cable television special. Some critics dismissed it for being slight, but I like its messages and its sweetness. "Mayzie" is the story of a girl who first has to deal with being different, because of the yellow daisy growing out of the top of her head, and then with the dangers of sudden fame, after an agent parlays her uniqueness into celebrity. The Cat in the Hat serves as the narrator and as a Jiminy Cricket figure, giving Mayzie important advice, but I don't think he's integral to the story. Mayzie can stand just fine all by herself.

"Gerald McBoing-Boing" - Not a Seuss book, but one of the great UPA cartoon shorts, which Seuss wrote, about a boy who speaks in sound effects instead of words. There were three further shorts, and Gerald hosted his own television show briefly in the '50s, and then returned for a Canadian cartoon series just recently, in 2005. Now the greatness of the original short was in its simplicity and the concept couldn't be stretched out to feature length without adding a lot more to the existing story, which would be very tricky. I'd try combining it with one of the Seuss's stories with less compelling protagonists, like "I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew," or maybe even "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"

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