Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dr. Seuss Animated Adaptations

Poor Horton. Dr. Seuss's kindly elephant is persuaded to sit on an egg while its mother, the good-for-nothing bird lazy Mayzie, takes a break. Little does Horton know that Mayzie is setting off for a permanent vacation in Palm Springs. He waits, and waits, never leaving his precarious branch, even through a freezing winter and a spring that's punctuated by the insults of his friends. ("They taunted. They teased him. They yelled 'How Absurd! Old Horton the Elephant thinks he's a bird!'") Further indignities await, but Horton has patience and he is rewarded in the end.

Title: Horton Hatches the Egg
Release: April 11, 1942
Genre: Animated Short
Writer: Dr. Seuss (book) & Michael Maltese
Director: Robert Clampett
Music By: Carl W. Stalling
Produced By: Leon Schlesinger
Distributed By: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 10 minutes

The first person to have a go at adapting Ted Geisel’s (better known as Dr. Seuss) work was his friend Robert Clampett who was currently working at the Warner Brothers studio producing the animated cartoon shorts known as Merrie Melodies. Working together using the “mash-up of Clampett’s craziness and the Seussian rhyme and style” , they recreated Seuss’ fourth published story Horton Hatches the Egg.

Such a great cartoon! There are pop culture references (Mayzie does a great Katharine Hepburn impersonation) and of course the humor you would expect to get from a Warner Brothers animated short but I was so pleased that the Seussian essence of the original story was still there. Even the overall look of it has a Seuss flair. I meant what I said and I said what I meant, this cartoon is faithful almost 100%.

Dr. Seuss' classic of a jungle elephant named Horton teaches us what it means to be a true friend. Hearing a faint cry for help from a floating speck of dust, Horton finds a tiny planet of Whos living there. Though he can't see them, he hears them for sure - and puts his safety on the line for microscopic inhabitants. Thanks to Dr. Who-Vee and Horton, Whoville is saved and a lasting friendship is created.

Title: Horton Hears a Who!
Release: 1970
Genre: Animated TV Special
Writer: Dr. Seuss
Director: Chuck Jones & Ben Washam
Music By: Eugene Poddany & Dr. Seuss (lyrics)
Produced By: Chuck Jones & Theodor Geisel
Distributed By: Warner Brother
Run Time: 26 minutes

Dr. Seuss’s finest elephant made his first appearance in his book Horton Hatches the Egg (1940) and fourteen years later he was the subject of another story Horton Hears a Who! Although both were bestsellers, the latter has been made into more films. Quite a lot of the original Dr. Seuss material appears throughout this adaptation but there are a few major changes like names and some of the story. For example: it’s not the Who mayor that is in contact with Horton, it’s a scientist named Dr. H. Who-Vee (the Who who bears a slight resemblance to Dr. Seuss himself) and no one believed him about there being a world outside of Whoville- just like no one believed Horton about the Whos.

This short adaptation is wonderful! Dr. Seuss’ touch is evident (especially in the songs, which were composed by Eugene Poddany who also worked with Seuss on his Cat in the Hat Song Book in 1967) throughout the film even when it takes an off beaten track from the original story. I also loved the overall look of this Peabody award winning TV special because it’s by the same people who worked on How the Grinch Stole Christmas (matter of fact there are a few reused scenes from it) and you can really tell because it’s just that good.

In an animated version of one of the most beloved of all Dr. Seuss tales, two youngsters find themselves at home with nothing to do on a rainy afternoon. But when the magical, mischievous Cat in the Hat arrives on the scene, they're all cat-apulted into a day of rousing, romping, outlandish antics they-and you-will never forget!

Title: The Cat in the Hat
Release: March 10, 1971
Genre: Animated TV special
Writer: Dr. Seuss
Director: Hawley Pratt
Music By: Dean Elliott
Produced By: David H. DePatie, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Theodor Geisel
Distributed By: DePatie- Freleng Enterprises (DFE)
Run Time: 25 minutes

Obviously one of the most well-known and loved of Seuss’ creations is The Cat in the Hat. Dr. Seuss himself used the cat for many personal drawings to family and friends the rest of his life as well as created six stories that the cat either starred in or was a part of. The lovable rascal also appeared in many adaptations by the DFE (DePatie- Freleng Enterprises) cartoon specials but the Cat’s first screen appearance was in this animated special.

If I was going to pick my favorite Seuss character it would have to be Horton the elephant or the Grinch but the most celebrated creation of his is The Cat in the Hat. Maybe it’s just me but I actually liked the fish, Mr. Krinlebein more. In this TV special he’s voiced by the very talented Dawes Butler who also did the voice for Yogi Bear and many others (Allan Sherman lends his voice to the Cat). I also had a slight issue with one or two songs even though I loved the lyrics (they seem pure Seuss to me) but the score just doesn’t sound right. Other than a few other nitpicks, this was a great adaptation even if Thing 2 and Thing 1 gave me the creeps!

The award-winning tale of The Lorax tells the story of the greedy, tree-chopping Once-lers and the brave little Lorax who speaks up for the vanishing Truffla trees. Only to be pushed aside in favor of progress.

Title: The Lorax
Release: February 14, 1972
Genre: Animated TV special
Writer: Dr. Seuss
Director: Hawley Pratt
Music By: Dean Elliott
Produced By: David H. DePatie, Friz Freleng, Theodor Geisel
Distributed By: DePatie- Freleng Enterprises
Run Time: 25 minutes

There are one or two controversial books written by Dr. Seuss over the years. His 1971 release was The Lorax which is a pollution and environmental damage awareness story that made quite a few people angry but has since been acclaimed as genius. The DePatie- Freleng Enterprises (who have made more Seuss adaptations than anyone) created this animated TV special a year after the book came out.

The Lorax was my favorite DFE animated feature because not only was it faithful to the original story, it also expanded on it. The short little film is an adept look at progress. I wonder what the Lorax would say about the way life is like now, nearly forty years since Ted Geisel created him?

The Hoober-Bloob Highway is a path of light connected to Earth that leads to a floating island in the sky. On that island lives Mr. Hoober-Bloob who; assisted by a self-playing instrument, sends babies and other animals to live on Earth but only if they want to go.

Title: The Hoober-Bloob Highway
Release: February 19, 1975
Genre: Animated TV special
Writer: Dr. Seuss
Director: Alan Zaslove
Music By: Dean Elliott
Produced By: David H. DePatie, Friz Freleng, Theodor Geisel
Distributed By: DePatie- Freleng Enterprises
Run Time: 30 minutes

The Hoober-Bloob Highway was another one of the few animated films created that Ted Geisel wrote everything for (even the lyrics to the music) without his alter ego Dr. Seuss having written a book for it first. This short, artistic film was actually nominated for the Outstanding Children’s Special Emmy in 1975.

Although I didn’t hate this colorful musical, I also can’t claim it’s my favorite. There is a reason why it’s not shown quite as often as some of the other stuff Geisel had a hand in. It certainly had a lot of neat parts but while the song lyrics were good, the final composed product just didn’t mesh quite right and the pacing was kind of slow too. I did notice quite a few scenes that are in some of Seuss’ other books but for the most part it was just a crazy little film.

A young man named Pontoffel Pock wishes he could get away and his wish is granted by the fairy McGillicuddy who gives him a magical, musical piano that takes him anywhere he wants to go. When he loses his new love and his way home, Pontoffel Pock is determined to find them again!

Title: Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?
Release: May 2, 1980
Genre: Animated TV special
Writer: Dr. Seuss
Director: Gerard Baldwin
Music By: Joe Raposo
Produced By: David H. DePatie, Friz Freleng, Theodor Geisel
Distributed By: DePatie- Freleng Enterprises
Run Time: 25 minutes

The DFE also created Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You? which was another of the few things that Ted Geisel lent himself to that wasn’t based on a book he had written (as Dr. Seuss of course). This cartoon was nominated for an Emmy along with another DePatie-Freleng Pink Panther in the Olym-pinks but unfortunately neither cartoon won.

I thought it was interesting to be sure, but again not the best. I think it was all of the singing that threw me off, only about ten to fifteen minutes total is spoken instead of sung (not that the singing is bad! There is just too much). The film is animated in that classic DFE look but the Seussian remains distinctive too. I would love to see all of the TV specials by this company completely remastered!

In the Emmy award-winning tale of The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss's two most popular characters square off in a whimsical, Seuss-style showdown as the ever-clever Cat puts the gloomy Grinch in his place!

Title: The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat
Release: May 20, 1982
Genre: Animated TV special
Writer: Dr. Seuss
Director: Bill Perez
Music By: Joe Raposo
Produced By: Friz Freleng & Theodor Geisel
Distributed By: DePatie- Freleng Enterprises & Marvel Productions, Ltd.
Run Time: 25 minutes

The last of the DePatie- Freleng animated cartoons was The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat and they certainly went out with a bang! It won two Emmy awards for both of the animated categories beating two Smurf cartoons and two Charlie Brown ones as well.

Oh boy! The Grinch decided to grinch the wrong person that day! Of course the laidback, easy-going Cat in the Hat showed him the error of his ways. You would expect a kind of Bugs Bunny- type of showdown but that’s not this Cat’s style. However he does get fed up with the Grinch stealing everyone’s sound, light, and colors (you have to see some of those creations). I think this was my second favorite DFE production (The Lorax was the best), they should have merged with Marvel even sooner!

Let the Butter Battle Begin! The Zooks and the Yooks are at war over butter and bread - on which side should one spread? It starts with sticks and with stones. Gets bigger, grows badder, everyone's a bit madder. There's a lesson to learn for those who must fight... a war is never won despite all one's might.

Title: The Butter Battle Book
Release: November 13, 1989
Genre: Animated TV special
Writer: Dr. Seuss
Director: Ralph Bakshi
Produced By: Ralph Bakshi & Ted Geisel
Distributed By: Bakshi Productions
Run Time: 25 minutes

Rarely did Dr. Seuss have any kind of big statement to make in his books but when he did, he didn't back down, especially in The Butter Battle Book! When he was pressured to have it end with on an uplifting note by his publishers, he refused. Five years after it was published (it was the only book of his that has been censored), Ralph Bakshi teamed up to create one of Seuss’ mos faithful adaptations.

The Butter Battle Book is a very satirical view at the nuclear arms race by trying to show how silly war is when everyone can and probably will be blown to bits. All over which way a person buttered their bread (butter side up, or down), kind of like in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift when a war is started over which way to crack an egg. I actually found both Seuss’ creation and this adaptation kind of sad really, but at least Chris Recarrdi did a really good job animating it!

Narrated by The Cat in the Hat (voiced by Henry Gibson), Daisy-Head Mayzie is the story of a little girl who one day, grows a flower out of the top of her head!

Her classmates, teacher, and principal can't believe their eyes and her parents are shocked. Finagle, the agent (voiced by Tim Curry) is the only person who seems happy about the situation. He helps turn Mayzie and her Daisy into a world-wide marketing sensation.

What happens when she tires of her fame and fortune?

Title: Daisy- Head Mayzie
Release: February 5, 1995
Genre: Animated TV special
Writer: Dr. Seuss
Director: Tony Collingwood
Music By: Philip Appleby
Produced By: Audrey Geisel, Christopher O’Hare, Buzz Potamkin
Distributed By: Hannah- Barbera Productions
Run Time: 30 minutes

Nominated for the prestigious Annie and Emmy awards, Daisy-Head Mayzie was a script that Dr. Seuss’ widow Audrey Geisel found after he died (there are several other posthumous works too) and allowed it to be filmed. Hannah-Barbera won the bidding war for the right to make the cartoon and they added a bit of the Seuss whimsy to the animation while still keeping with their own style.

A great Seuss story! I thought it was very cute, but it could have probably done without the moral lesson; something I’m sure Seuss himself never would have put in, so it must have been added at the last minute but I still liked it and Tim Curry was really good as the sleazy agent too.

Other Seuss Adaptations: How the Grinch Stole Christmas & Halloween is Grinch Night

Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss has plenty of pages dedicated to him and his many varied works including a National Memorial but Wikipedia has many pages linked to him and his adaptations too. I also stumbled across a great article about this amazing author on Animated Views.

Horton Hatches the Egg:

Cat in the Hat Clip:

The Lorax Clip:

Grinch Grinches Clip:


  1. I wanted to de-lurk for am minute because I actually just bought and watched the Horton Hears A Who DVD (it has 4 of the Seuss cartoons on it).
    I had remembered the cartoon form my childhood and wanted to see it again. Lol! My siblings and I still sing the Wickersham brothers song and chant "Boil that dust speck".
    It was interesting to watch the others on the DVD (The Butter Battle Book, Horton Hatches an Egg, and Daisy-Head Maisy), I had never seen any of the adaptations. I had never even heard of Daisy-Head Maisy. But they are a fun set to add to my video collection.
    Thanks for reviewing them on your blog.

  2. Very well done, Jen. I had never heard of a few of these. I'll have to check them out.

  3. I always loved 'Green Eggs & Ham' best. And I read it to my kids, who loved it as well. I havent seen many of these adaptations.
    I did see 'The Cat in the Hat' and 'Grinch Who Stole Christmas' the film versions, and I liked them both. Especially the Grinch.
    Amazing review!!


  4. Ha...this so brings back memories for me! Even now when visiting daycares, I will always look for the Dr. Suess books in their personal libraries...

  5. The old school animated versions of Dr. Seuss's books still hold up much better than any live action film remake,in my opinion.

    Didn't the recent big screen version of Horton Hears A Who but at least it was a cartoon.



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