Oh me, oh my! A DVD to buy! Should you purchase it for yourself or leave it there on the shelf? Reviewing this disc falls to me. Let's move on, shall we?
With the release of The Cat in the Hat in theaters, Warner Bros., in association with Turner Entertainment, decides to take advantage of the probable hunger for all Seuss product by compiling three lesser known animated Seuss adaptations on one DVD:
The Butter Battle Book (1989) dir. Ralph Bakshi
Daisy Head Mayzie (1995) dir. Tony Collingwood
Horton Hatches the Egg (1942) dir. Bob Clampett
Dr. Seuss has been one of the most unusual and offbeat children's authors in literature. Maybe those very qualities explain his popularity. He never wrote droll, ordinary books. His best books were full of wonder, awe, and imagination. Born Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss wasn't the only outlet he used for his writing. Theo Le Seig (spell it backwards) was one of his pseudonyms. He also wrote for the silver screen, under the name T. Hee (he created the character Gerald McBoing-Boing; the first short won the Oscar for Best Short Subject in 1951). Supposedly he hated children, but I have my doubts. His books are never condescending towards them and usually feature strong, unique children as protagonists.
The Best of Dr. Seuss has been available on video for several years but is only now making its DVD debut. The Butter Battle Book was not one of Dr. Seuss' best books, but under the direction of the legendary maverick Ralph Bakshi (Fritz The Cat, Heavy Traffic), it forms the basis for a very good cartoon. Bakshi puts aside his rotoscoping techniques that marked much of this work and returns to the original hand drawn format. His backgrounds are sparse and flat, which is a major plus. It allows us to concentrate on the story and the veiled references to a certain cold war that was about to come to an end. The animation is cruder than you would expect for a Seuss cartoon, but the raw visuals fit the story very well. My sole complaint is over the ending, which is open but very unsatisfying.
Daisy Head Mayzie was based on a Seuss story that was never published. Geisel's widow found the story three years after his death and granted film rights to the story. A bidding war escalated and the winner was Hanna-Barbera Studios. The story seems slight at first, but there is a depth and brilliance to it that won't surface on the initial viewing. Some have criticized Daisy Head Mayzie for its sentimental nature. It is unfounded since the program earns its laughs and tears the honest, truthful way instead of the standard forcefulness of many Hollywood productions (Patch Adams comes to mind).
The best was saved for last. Horton Hatches the Egg (1942), which was directed by Bob Clampett, was and still is a masterpiece. Running a longer than usual ten minutes (the average Looney Tunes short ran seven minutes), Clampett and his animators (including Robert McKimson and Chuck Jones) use a wide palette of unusual colors to tell the story. No Seuss book has been better animated (except the ones directed by Jones). Clampett understands that it is not enough to simply remain faithful to the source material. He remains more faithful to the spirit and tone of Seuss' writing and it's obvious much work went into making sure it came out just right. The version presented here is uncut, restoring a much-edited sequence involving Horton's trip by sea to the circus. I won't reveal it but if you're used to watching this on television, you will be surprised with the forcefulness of this particular scene.
The full frame transfer is appropriate. Quality is a mixed bag. Daisy Head Mayzie looks the best of the three shorts, mainly because it is the most recently made and the print hasn't aged terribly yet. There are no signs of film artifacts and the grain factor isn't present. Colors are appropriately strong and vivid. The Butter Battle Book shows signs of aging with specks and scratches often present, along with some slight grain. Colors are often muted and subdued, but considering the subject matter and animation techniques, the transfer works. Horton Hatches the Egg is a classic Warner Bros. short and was treated to a major restoration effort. This print is the best one currently available and chances are it hasn't looked this good since its premiere. Granted, there are some imperfections that will never disappear but compared to muddy, subdued and butchered television prints, this looks sensational.
Warner provides a very simple yet effective Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix. There are some problems that tend to be normal procedure for analog recordings but overall, dialogue, music, and sound effects come through loud and clear and I have no problems with it.
Three trailers are included for three other Warner Bros. children's discs and are your typical "new to home video, go buy it!" advertising fluff. My advice: spend your time elsewhere. However, the Tom and Jerry disc of classic holiday themed cartoons is worth a purchase. Maybe a review will appear down the road.
The Best of Dr. Seuss is worth purchasing for Horton Hatches the Egg alone. But Daisy Head Mayzie and Butter Battle Book are not without their charms and children will be spell bound by these shorts. It's a must own for any family, Dr. Seuss fan, animation buff or just plain casual viewer. Of all the Dr. Seuss animated DVDs, this and How the Grinch Stole Christmas/Horton Hears A Who are the ones to own.
Why anyone felt these defendants needed to go to trial is beyond comprehension. Everyone involved is free to go. Bailiff, next case!
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