We need to talk. Now.
Look, I get it. You look at the books authored and drawn by the late Theodore Seuss Geisel and you see box office gold.
Their technicolor hues and soft, rounded angles fairly scream: Family movie. And with revenues being what they are these days, I can hardly blame you for planning ahead for overseas receipts, DVD/streaming/rental revenues and the inevitable toys and fast-food tie-ins. Who wouldn’t want to drink a Truffula shake after all?
But, please, as a guy who grew up reading the books and couldn’t wait to start reading them to my now six-year-old daughter, please stop.
This isn’t because I don’t want to see Dr. Seuss’ madcap adventures come to life. Anyone who reads the books knows that there’s so much potential in them if they’re done right. The problem is, every single Seuss movie you’ve brought the the Multiplex so far has just absolutely stunk.
“The Grinch” with Jim Carrey? Oy … where do I begin?
“The Cat in the Hat” with Mike Meyers? The less said the better.
“Horton Hears a Who?” At least you had the common sense to realize that Seuss’ stories are better rendered through animation than live action actors. But it was a swing and a miss.
And “The Lorax?” What the hell is it with the whole Zach Effron/Taylor Swift love-story you’ve shoe-horned into the film? Doesn’t need it. It’s not convincing.
And now I read this morning that the suits at Universal are considering going back to the well for the “Cat in the Hat” again, this time animated — and in 3D?
Stop. Now. And the Geisel estate? You stop it, too. You’re polluting a beloved legacy.
But I realize these pleas are probably falling on deaf ears. So, if you must adapt these movies for a new generation — and what the heck happened to coming up with original ideas? I could write a book on the creative bankruptcy in Hollywood these days — then do two things:
Read the damned books. They work because they have a rhythm and poetry to them utterly absent from the ploddingly paced, hit-you-over-the-head obviousness of the books. The books work because they pull you in and put you into the imaginary universe contained within their pages.
How does this happen?
Though they’re filled with bright colors and vibrant colors, the books are, at their heart, minimalist. They make you do the work of imagining what it might be like to live in such fantastical places where there are two kinds of Sneetches: the plain-bellied and those with stars on thars.
And when they’re done doing that, they make you think about whether there’s such a big difference between those with stars or those without. Or whether it’s possible for someone’s heart to grow two sizes too big because of the kindness of a child. When I left your adaptations, I was just left wondering why I’d put down my $8.50. The only lesson: Don’t get fooled again.
And when you’re done reading the books, do this:
Go back and watch the original Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng cartoons from the late 1960s and early 1970s . No one since has come close to capturing Seuss’ whimsical spirit or the sense of magic his books evoked.
Why do they work? Simple.
They’re not stuffed to the gills with special effects, rounded cornices or nauseating technicolor. The cartoons work because they look like the books.
Here’s the original Lorax:
How about the purity of the lines? The simplicity of the art? And the narration from Eddie Albert. The cartoon starts with the opening scene at The Onceler’s tower and ends there. Just as the book did. It said what it needed to say and did it in its allotted 30 minutes. There’s an economy there missing from every single adaptation since.
Or The Grinch?
Ditto. And don’t tell me that Boris Karloff’s narration isn’t the high point of this one either. And don’t you just want to take Max the dog home with you and give him dinner?
Dear Hollywood, look I get it. Nostalgia sells. Especially in The Great Recession, when people are looking for comfort in a time of uncertainty. You’re rebooting everything from “Dark Shadows” to the “Lone Ranger.” Someone, God knows who, thought “John Carter” was a good idea. And you’re even making a movie out of a freaking board game with “Battleship.”
All of them will no doubt be overstuffed spectacles, chock-a-block with eye candy. But sometimes, when it comes to adapting much-beloved children’s books for the big screen, less is more. I bet Berkeley Breathed is still kicking himself over what he let you do to “Mars Needs Moms,” which still makes my wife cry every single time she reads it to our daughter.
Jesus Marimba, what a disaster that was. You took one of the most moving books about motherhood I’ve ever read and totally destroyed it.
So bottom line:
Stick to the essence of the books. It’s what worked with “Harry Potter” and it’s apparently what’s poised to turn “The Hunger Games” into a smashing success as well. And it’s why Hemingway, with the exception of the Gary Cooper version of “A Farewell to Arms,” hated every single filmed versions of his books.
And don’t get Alan Moore started on “Watchmen.” I’ll be reading Seuss books to my grandchildren by the time he’s done.
I hope we don’t have to have this conversation again. But I’m sure we will. Just promise me you’ll think about it, ok?