Sony // 2004 // 73 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // July 21st, 2004
The zany Cat in the Hat is back with imaginative adventures!
Three more episodes from the 1996-1999 Nickelodeon television series have been compiled onto a single disc. I've rated them on a scale of zero to five red striped hats.
* "The Sounds All Around"
Terrence McBird has developed a severe case of the dreaded hiccups. Can the Cat in the Hat help cure his pal's ailment with the aid of Pam-I-Am and his three Little Cats?
* "Horton Has a Hit"
While forcing his simian helpers to push his broken-down vehicle to a gas station seventy miles away, Yertle the Turtle overhears Horton singing to his son Morton. Dollar signs flash in his eyes as Yertle realizes that Horton's voice is the key to the top.
* "The Grinch Meets His Max/Halfway Home to Malamaroo"
The Cat in the Hat's storytelling machine entertains the Little Cats with two stories: the story of how the Grinch took in Max the Dog as a pet and the tale of Alvin, a procrastinating alien from the planet Malamaroo.
Bringing the work of the late Theodor Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, to life has been a dicey proposition. Animation has been the ideal format for his work. The two Chuck Jones specials How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) and Horton Hears a Who (1970) are both timeless masterpieces. Some of the DePatie-Freleng–made specials are also pretty good, the best of them being The Lorax (1975). Back in December 2003, I reviewed a very good animated compilation disc titled The Best of Dr. Seuss.
Live-action adaptations are another story. The Grinch (2000) was one of the most painful moviegoing experiences of my life. The joy and wit of Seuss were drowned out by darkness and ugly surroundings. Similarly, the recent The Cat in the Hat bore only the barest resemblance to the Seuss book. I only mention those films to emphasize how good The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss is. Here, at last, is a live-action adaptation of Seuss that retains the spirit and wit of the original works.
Wait a minute, you might say: This is a show featuring puppetry, so why class it as live action? Puppetry is still live action, however, in that it relies on the agility and skill of human beings to make the puppets work. Who better than the Jim Henson Company to handle this? It was the late, great Jim Henson who brought puppetry to previously unknown levels. Starting with Kermit the Frog, Henson was responsible for making puppets seem like living beings rather than dummies on strings. In addition, the scripts are all first rate. Using the characters from the vast Seuss canon, they create original stories that remain absolutely faithful to the spirit and tone of Seuss. The writers resist the temptation to make the characters their own; instead, they trust in the qualities Geisel gave his characters and do terrific work.
Let's compare the Cat in the Hat as featured in Wubbulous and the recent Mike Myers film. Myers, piled with pounds of makeup, did not resemble the Cat of the classic book; rather, he was a thin parody of the character. There was not a thing in his performance that fleshed out Seuss's whimsical creation. Even with millions of dollars in visual effects and production design, the interpretation seemed phony. The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss was made at one-sixteenth the cost of the Myers film, yet the lower budget doesn't show. Mixed with functional 3-D computer animation, the puppetry brings the material to life. Bruce Lanoil, who puppeteers the Cat in the Hat, suggests Seuss's creation much better than Myers ever did. Even though he is controlling a foam-and-fake-fur Muppet, he injects wit and joy in the performance (yes, it is a performance). Funny how foam conveys so much more emotion and feeling than Myers did.
Columbia presents all three episodes in full frame. The transfer looks sensational. The colors are supersaturated, essential for a sunny children's program such as this one. No blemishes are present throughout the 73-minute running time. What appears to be edge enhancement is simply a side effect of the blue screen work that blends the puppetry with computer animation.
Audio is the standard Dolby Digital 2.0 track that has been featured in the two previous collections. Sound is one area Columbia has been spotty in recently, but I am pleased to report that they have done an excellent job with Wubbulous World. While stereo might not seem like the right choice, it is the correct one for this show. The unique sound effects and heavy emphasis on odd, colorful dialogue need the extra room offered by multichannel stereo. Squeezing all this onto a mono track might have worked, but there would have been the risk of a traffic jam of aural elements. The stereo mix is clean and well organized.
Other than the previews one is forced to sit through before the feature presentation, Columbia has offered no extras. Neither of the previous collections had any extras, so why should I have expected any this time around? Well, one must never give up hope. Let's hope that for the fourth collection Columbia gives us a behind-the-scenes featurette or commentary track for one episode.
Recent Columbia discs have featured outrageous $24.95 price tags for lackluster, barebones editions, but the Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss DVD series has been offered at a budget price of $14.95. With superb quality in every area, this is one disc I can recommend without hesitation.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 73 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated