How Illumination Surprisingly Nailed Its Dr. Seuss Adaptations

May 11, 2023

Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved children’s authors of all-time, and classics like The Cat in the Hat, It Happened On Mulberry Street, Fox and Sox, and Yertle the Turtle have been celebrated for generations. Seuss was awarded with the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for “his special contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America’s children and their parents,” and was granted with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his achievements.

Unfortunately, Seuss’ work has had a somewhat rocky road translating to the big screen. While some younger viewers may have some nostalgia for Ron Howard’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas due to Jim Carrey’s performance, it’s hardly an authentic translation of the book’s themes. The ill-fated The Cat in the Hat movie starring Mike Myers is commonly regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.

Surprisingly, Illumination and Blue Sky Studios have nailed their adaptations of classic Seuss books. Both computer animation studios hardly have the track record that their rivals at Pixar do, as their films are generally met with more criticism. Illumination continues to overindulge in its Despicable Me and Minions properties, and Blue Sky Studios did the same with Ice Age. However, animation may have been the best way to translate Dr. Seuss’ timeless stories to the big screen.

Horton Hears a Who Expanded the Original Story

20th Century Fox

1954’s Horton Hears A Who is one of Seuss’ most beloved children’s books, as the line “a person’s a person, no matter how small” has become a popular truism that’s taught to kids at a young age to teach them the importance of respecting others. While some of Seuss’ books have been under fire recently for some of the racially insensitive imagery, he’s never been a malicious person, and books like Horton Hears A Who have progressive themes that are still resonant. Like many Seuss stories, Horton Hears A Who is a relatively short story, and the 1970 television animated special ran just under 30 minutes. Considering that the popular Broadway musical Seussical used Horton as a primary character already, it seemed like a film would only be repetitive and perfunctory.

However, the 2008 film does a great job at extending the story in a way that made sense. The changes don’t affect the intentionality of Seuss’ original work, but reinforce the same themes by showing how Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey) forms a personal relationship with the overworked Mayor of Whoville, Mayor Ned McDodd (Steve Carell). Horton is mocked by the animal community and feels like a naive outsider, and the Mayor has the difficult task of managing his 99 daughters and one son JoJo (Jesse McCartney). Their relationship is genuinely funny, as the two veteran comic actors can make almost any line sound goofy.

Related: The Best Movies Based on Dr. Seuss Stories, Ranked

Carrell’s voice as Gru in the Despicable Me franchise grew into a broad caricature, but his vocal performance as the Mayor is actually more empathetic. The relationship between the Mayor and JoJo is genuinely touching; while initially the Mayor struggles to understand why his son doesn’t want to follow in his line of work, he learns to be proud of JoJo’s passion for music after his songs help save the city in the final act. Carrey is a comedic genius like no one else; even when he’s not on-screen, Carrey clearly is making the type of bizarre choices that made him so beloved in the first place.

The Lorax Focused on Environmentalism

Illumination Entertainment

The Lorax is one of Seuss’ most timely books, as themes of environmentalism and capitalistic indulgence are more relevant now than ever before. Unfortunately, too much of the attention that The Lorax film from 2012 received wasn’t actually based on the film itself. Some detractors noted the excessive marketing by Illumination as a contradiction to the book’s message; this is a valid complaint to make, but it doesn’t affect the quality of The Lorax as a film. The animators, writers, and vocal cast can’t be blamed for decisions made by a studio to advertise their product.

Related: Several Dr. Seuss Books Stop Publication Because of Racist and Insensitive Imagery

Danny DeVito voices the titular Lorax, a small orange creature that tries to protect a forest of trees from being cut down or burned. The film is told in partial flashbacks; the teenage boy Ted (Zac Efron) learns from a reclusive elder man named The Once-ler (Ed Harris), who tells him the story of how he destroyed the trees when he grew obsessed with selling his destructive inventions. Remarkably, the film is unafraid to show how a massive, powerful corporation can reap massive environmental damage. While obviously the animation is exaggerated, the concept feels quite close to many of the news stories that are relevant today. It’s a strong argument for environmentalism, but the digestible style of Illumination’s animation makes it understandable to children.

Ted is given an inspiring role, and considering his youth, he makes a great avatar for younger viewers. There’s also an expanded role for his love interest Audrey (Taylor Swift), and seeing two younger characters working together to repopulate the forest was a great way to depict the activist themes.

The Grinch Became a New Christmas Classic

Universal Pictures

The 2001 live-action film of How The Grinch Stole Christmas proved that Seuss’ stories simply worked better as animation. The bright, poppy atmosphere looks surrealist and mildly disturbing in live-action, but the colorful animation that Illumination utilizes helped The Grinch craft an endearing portrait of the titular character. Benedict Cumberbatch’s vocal performance is certainly sinister at point, but The Grinch shows his progression in a way that makes him empowering at the end.

The Lorax film had to add some new elements to the original book in order to make a feature-length film, but none of these additional storylines distract from the central narrative. In fact, the details about the Grinch’s backstory are helpful in learning more about his upbringing and difficult relationship with his parents. It’s also nice to spend more time showing the characters in Whoville and individualizing them.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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