“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
— Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss. What would childhood be without him and his wacky worlds, his wonderful words? Since his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was released in 1937 (after having been rejected twenty-seven times by short-sighted publishers, if you can believe it), he has never once been out of print, and the best estimates put total sales of his sixty or so books at close to 225 million copies. The cadence of his rhymes, the whimsicality of his art and the depth of his insight have long made him an icon; add in his unforgettable creations, whether they be cats in hats, foxes in socks or seven-humped Wumps, and it is easy to see why his works have won the hearts and minds of children, parents and teachers the world over.
Here, in honor of Dr. Seuss Day — aka National Read Across America Day, celebrated every year on this, Dr. Seuss’s birthday — a tribute to the man himself.
First, some perhaps little-known facts about Dr. Seuss:
• His real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel – his friends and family called him “Ted”.
• He was not a doctor. Of anything.
• He also published books under the name Theo LeSeig; these were illustrated by other artists.(LeSeig is Geisel, backwards.)
• Of particular note in the Seussian bibliography is The Seven Lady Godivas (1939), a book of cartoon nudes. (!!!)
• “Seuss” is actually pronounced “Soice”, not however you’ve been saying it.
• Dr. Seuss was pro-choice, and hated it when pro-life groups started using the line “A person’s a person, no matter how small” (from Horton Hears a Who) as a rallying cry.
• His work earned three Academy awards, two Emmy awards, a Peabody award and a special Pulitzer Prize.
• During World War II he made propaganda documentaries for the Allies, including one unsettlingly called Hitler Lives, and another sinisterly entitled Design for Death.
• He wrote Green Eggs and Ham on a bet, allowed to use only 50 words. (He made fifty bucks.)
• Dr. Seuss has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, just a couple down from Mr. Rogers, along the way from Pee Wee Herman, and quite close to Rugrats. (Yes the Nickelodeon cartoon Rugrats has its own star. Random.)
• He didn’t have any children, and has been quoted as saying: “You make ’em, I’ll amuse ’em.”
And amuse them he continues to do! In recent years, that amusement has shifted to the big screen, with both live action and animated features made from his books. Seuss, like all beloved childhood writers, has long been a topic of hot film-optioning, and many straight animations of the texts had previously been made for the small screen, but it was not until 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas that Seuss saw a major theater release. Jim Carrey’s energetic, menacing Grinch, along with the ice cream-colored Whoville and the kickass Cindy-Lou Who (Taylor Momsen – hey, Jenny Humphrey from Gossip Girl), all directed by Ron Howard, was surprisingly enchanting, and while by no means a perfect movie, generated enough revenue and goodwill to allow The Cat in the Hat to arrive in cinemas three years later.
This was… a less good idea.
A deserving winner of 2003’s Razzie Award for Worst Excuse for an Actual Movie, The Cat in the Hat is almost universally reviled, with a score of 11% on Rotten Tomatoes (which is quite generous, actually), and was reportedly an offense to Seuss’s widow, and keeper of the copyrights, Audrey Geisel. Oh, the film has its moments – Dakota Fanning, as the prissy Sally, is little short of adorable – but Mike Myers’s odd, creepy rendition of the titular Cat frightened kids as much, if not more, than he amused them, and the addition of a spurious love interest (Alec Baldwin) for the children’s mother (Kelly Preston) was pointless and confusing – after all, don’t the kids have a father in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back? Or, at least, they have a pair of his ten dollar shoes – leaving us with a tiresome experience unworthy of its legacy, and certainly not one to gladden Seuss fans of any age.
2008’s Horton Hears a Who was far more successful, its animated delights capturing the diminutive Whos even more enjoyably than was accomplished in The Grinch, and the most recent addition to the pantheon, 2012’s The Lorax, was arguably the most successful of the adaptations thus far, being a fun and fully-fleshed morality tale disguised as a kid-friendly comedy-with-a-conscience/infomercial for hybrid cars.
But as entertaining as The Lorax was, there can be no denying that it took some liberties with its (admittedly limited) source material, manufacturing out of whole cloth a hero (Zac Efron) and his family and the kind of hippy girl he has a crush on (Taylor Swift), along with a ruthless Napoleonic businessman (Rob Riggle). True, they stayed as faithful as they could to what is, after all, a scant five minutes worth of poem, and threw in as many callbacks to the original text as possible – hell, they even called Efron’s character Ted! – but additions to the story were a necessity, as they also were in previous attempts, because even the longest of these picture books only number somewhere in the vicinity of 60 not-at-all-densely printed pages, and 60 not-at-all-densely printed pages does not a feature film make. (cf. Where the Wild Things Are.) Happily, in this instance, the additions were clever, and age-appropriate, which can certainly not be said of, as for example, The Cat in the Hat.
But the success of The Lorax does beg the question: what future film projects, whether animated or live action, might Hollywood pull from the Seussian backlist, and what changes might they make from page to screen in order to fill out the running time? Oh, the thinks they can think! Perhaps thinks like…
A story that NO ONE can beat…
From the director of Hugo comes this timeless tale of a little boy with a big imagination… or possibly a window into another world!
Marco (Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Game of Thrones) is a daydreamer, arriving home from school each day with fantastic tales of the extraordinary things he has seen. As the stories become more and more elaborate, his scientist parents (Joseph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett) become increasingly concerned, but as the lines blur between fiction and non-, between reality and fantasy, only the boy’s earnest therapist (Ryan Philippe) begins to believe that perhaps Marco’s visions of zebras, marching bands and ten-foot beards that need a comb are no mere delusions, and instead evidence of an extraordinary gift. But with pressure mounting on Marco to be rational and “normal,” will he stay true to what he sees, or bow to the mundane? Also starring Kal Penn as the Rajah and Robert De Niro as Sergeant Mulvaney, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street is a moving and inspirational family film that will delight all ages.
In theaters this Thanksgiving, only in 3D. (Oscar nominations to follow.)
Take it slowly. This movie is DANGEROUS.
From the team that brought you Old School and Dodgeball; some of the team that brought you Superbad; and one guy who worked on Project X (but is suitably ashamed of himself) comes the side-splitting slapstick comedy of the year!
Owen Wilson is Fox, a fast-talking conman with ambitions beyond his humble retail job selling bricks, clocks, socks and – weirdly – chickens. Jason Segel is Knox, the inarticulate son of an oil tycoon who longs to speak to the girl of his dreams, seamstress Sue Crow (Leslie Mann), but cannot seem to find the right words. Owing money to Knox’s powerful father, known fearfully as the Goo-Goose (Will Ferrell), Fox agrees to help woo the lovely Sue, little knowing that he, too, would soon begin to fall for her… Also featuring hilarious cameos from Vince Vaughn, as coach of peewee hockey team, The Tweetle-Beetles; Justin Long, as duck-fancier Luke Luck; James Franco, as Sue’s stoner brother “Slow” Joe Crow; and Jonah Hill, in a remarkable dual performance as twins Bim and Ben, rival would-be rock stars hoping to get their big break in the local Battle of the Bands, this year’s funniest movie is also its tongue-twistiest…
In Theaters: Christmas Day. On Netflix: New Year.
I would not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere…
From the director of In Time comes a dystopian allegory on the fruitlessness of individualism in the face of corporate hegemony.
Knox* (Justin Timberlake) refuses to take his place on the board of Sam-I-Am Industries at the side of his ruthless grandfather Sam (Beau Bridges), in favor of his stalled career as an investigative journalist. When Knox’s childhood friend and company rising-star Mouse (Ellen Page) learns that the groundbreaking drug trial she’s been working on is not, in fact, a cure for cancer but a mind-altering substance engineered to pacify the masses, she steals the secret formula and goes to Knox for help—even though they have not spoken since she dumped him on Prom Night. With Sam-I-Am assassins The Fox (Jason Statham) and The Goat (Harvey Keitel) hot on their tails, can these two star-crossed lovers defy the dark and the rain to get the truth about this new vaccine, codenamed “Green Eggs and Ham”, to Knox’s editor before it’s too late, or will the planned country-wide rollout leave even them uttering the words “Thank you, thank you Sam-I-Am”?
In Theaters, Summer 2015! Soundtrack available on iTunes now.
*What? That nameless guy in the hat looks just like Mr. Knox from Fox in Socks!
And just try to picture what they could do with One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, and everyone’s favorite graduation gift, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! The possibilities, like Theodor Geisel’s imagination, are truly endless.