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The Best of Dr. Seuss

The Best of Dr. Seuss
Warner Home Video
1:37 flat full frame
56 min.
Street Date
November 18,2003

Cartoons from stories by
Dr. Seuss
(Theodor Geisel)

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Clearly cued by the the theatrical release of The Cat in the Hat, Warners has scooped together three disparate cartoon shows from the fertile imagination of Dr. Seuss to make up this rather skimpy kiddie disc. Two of the shows are latter-day cable TV productions that recreate some of Theodor Geisel's oddly-styled artwork and little more. The third is a sparkling restoration of a 1942 Warner cartoon classic that makes the other two look like dull scribblings.


Butter Battle Book: Two competing communities are divided by a wall and incompatible philosophies - one butters its bread on the top and the other on the bottom. This leads to a destructive arms race. Daisy-Head Mayzie: When a bright yellow daisy sprouts from schoolgirl Mayzie's head, it causes alarm in her classroom, family and town, until an agent makes her a celebrity. Horton Hatches the Egg: a selfish bird tricks the gullible but steadfastly ethical elephant Horton into egg-sitting and then skips out on her responsibility.

The creative Theodor Geisel already had a busy career in animation when his children's book empire took off in the middle 1940s. His fanciful rhyming lyric style was put to good use in Wartime Private S.N.A.F.U. cartoons, little B&W gems of un-P.C. hilarity because they were aimed at adult soldiers, and sometimes had the adult content appropriate to them. They're not easy to see now.

The joy of Geisel's early hits as Dr. Seuss had a lot to do with their lack of message-mongering. The Cat in the Hat and other early successes derived their appeal from pure anarchy. Stories went completely bonkers with multiplying cats, wholesale destruction and chaos. The Grinch that Stole Christmas had its lesson of unselfishness, true, but what we most loved was the personality of the gleefully wicked Scrooge-like Grinch monster, and his pitifully overworked dog.

Judging by the evidence of the two newer shows in this kiddie assemblage, Geisel later turned his attention to serious issues. Daisy-Head Mayzie is a confused parable about conformity in society and irrational celebrity worship. The 1994 cartoon version was produced for Hanna-Barbera and has some fairly lively art, but the characters are as thin as the story. It's bookended with appearances by The Cat in the Hat (he takes Mayzie on a Lois Lane -like ride in the sky), thus justifying the big picture of TCITH on the front cover ... which will disappoint a lot of kids when they find he doesn't star in any of the cartoons inside.

Kids will just be bored by Butter Battle Book, a tediously literal simplification of the arms race that preaches that the differences between nations and creeds are as frivolous as which side of the bread one butters. The original idea feels like a rip-off not of Gulliver's Travels but the equally simplified 1960 The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, which retained only the which-end-of-the-egg dispute between the Lilliputians and their enemies. Each side escalates the technology of their weapons until the cartoon ends in a menacing standoff. It's not funny and its message will scare tots, so what's it for? It was produced by TNT in 1989, a big year for Ted Turner's one-mogul Peace movement. Charles Durning and Clive Revill are among the voice talent.

The third cartoon is much shorter than the other two but almost worth the purchase price in itself. Horton Hatches the Egg is a twisted Aesop's Fable with the kind of Seussian imagery kids loved: the giant pink elephant sitting on the strained, propped-up tree without breaking the polka-dotted egg beneath him. Geisel was probably working at Warner's Schlesinger unit at the time, and his kid's book gets the royal treatment, with great cartoon voices invented for Horton and Maisie, the irresponsible bird who says she's taking a quick break and then splits to Palm Beach. Both the story and the cartoon are about the importance of keeping one's word. No matter how much of a dope he is, and how absurd his lonely ordeal of sitting on the nest through floods and blizzards, kids always react positively to Horton's sense of duty and honor. It's the elephant equivalent of Bushido - I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant faithful one hundred percent! The lack of anything logical in the outcome helps define this as core Seuss material - the story has bold characters that the other two lack, and the fact that basic laws of nature are altered at the finish isn't a problem at all.

Warner cartoon magic gives Horton one of the most awkward walk cycles afforded a cartoon character, and makes the Maisie bird a ridiculously vain takeoff on Katherine Hepburn - or on the oft-repeated take-off of Hepburn, which by 1942 probably had a life of its own. The Warner crew adds the popular nonsense song Hut-Sut Ralson on the Rilla-Ra to the tale, with Horton unable to remember the second line - a nice joke on the lore of elephant memory. My mom told me that original audiences sang along with the reprise of the song at the end, just as they did the Swing on a Star song in the Little Lulu cartoons. Wish I could have been there.

This disc of Horton also keeps 100% faithfully intact a gag when the elephant is being transported back to civilization, involving a suicidal fish patterned after Peter L-L-Lorre. It was often censored from cable showings, but apparently Warners no longer thinks it will inspire kids to blow their brains out in imitation. So if you keep loaded guns lying around the family room while your kids watch cartoons, please exercise caution.

The encoding, color and presentation of the three cartoons on The Best of Dr. Seuss is perfect, with the only complaint being that kids are just as likely as adults to want to see Horton and be disappointed with the rest. The compensation is that the classic cartoon is in perfect shape. Compared to the other classic Warners cartoon compilations that give us hours of animation hits for the same price, this can't be called a bargain. But if life were fair, who would need DVD reviewers?

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Best of Dr. Seuss rates:
Cartoons: Fair, Fair, Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none, but hey! Favorite Family Trailers for other WB releases!
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 14, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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