Attention all fans of Dr. Seuss
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As The Cat in the Hat was about to hit theaters nationwide, several studios decided to release as much Seuss product as they could get their hands on. Universal released the lion's share of the Seuss animated specials made by the Friz Freleng studio. Warner countered with The Best of Dr. Seuss, which I reviewed in November. Columbia TriStar released this disc, almost as an afterthought. It's too bad, since this is one of the better Seuss discs available.
So what exactly is The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss? It is not based on any set Dr. Seuss book. Rather, it is a Jim Henson Entertainment production that uses many Seuss characters in original stories. The program debuted on Nickelodeon in 1996 and ended its run in 2001. It won several Emmys and received mostly positive reviews.
Three episodes are offered in this sampler. On a scale of zero to five hats:
"The Cat in the Hat Cleans Up His Act"
"The Cat in the Hat's Indoor Picnic"
"The Cat in the Hat's Big Birthday Surprise"
This may be the best treatment of Seuss on film since the Chuck Jones classics of the late 1960s. It captures the look and feel of his work so well that it's a shame more people don't know about it. The program earned respectable ratings, but Nickelodeon pulled the plug after four seasons for reasons that remain unclear.
Animation has been the medium of choice for Seuss adaptations, some good (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Horton Hears A Who), many bad (The Hoober Bloob Highway, Pontoffel Pock). Live action has been problematic, with the results being particularly awful but extremely profitable (but then again, Scooby-Doo was a hit). Brian Henson and his Muppeteers took a different approach with The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss. By using Muppets instead of animation, they managed to give it a three-dimensional feel that the two Universal features lack. Also, there is humanity that the features lack; I used to believe the Muppets were real, breathing creatures as a child; in a way, I still do feel that way, even though I know they're felt and foam. It's hard to explain.
The program is just plain fun. It creates new stories using the classic characters. That in itself was risky but they managed to succeed where many others have failed. It has energy and vitality, Kids will love the zany characters and lively action. Adults will love the stories and performances of the devoted Muppeteers who have turned puppeteering into a high art.
In the role of the Cat in the Hat, Muppeteer Bruce Lanoil gives the best interpretation since the late Allan Sherman did in the 1973 Friz Freleng cartoon. It has everything that the Mike Myers performance lacked: humor, sweetness, and vigor. Myers' performance felt too uncontrolled and showy for Seuss; Lanoil keeps it rooted in the reality of the situation, however zany, and makes the material soar.
Keeping in step with the original television presentation, the full frame
transfer for the most part looks fabulous. Colors are appropriately bold and
bright (especially since this is a Muppet adaptation of Seuss) and there is
minimal grain or artifacting to be found. Light edge enhancement creeps up at
various points, but it's so minimal, most will not notice it.
Another surprise is the audio portion of this disc. First, it's in stereo. Mono is usually the mix of choice for these discs. Second, it sounds terrific, with great clarity in the dialogue and no overlaps between the score and dialogue. Also, the stereo mix allows us to hear the innovative sound effects sprinkled on the soundtrack. Mono wouldn't have done this disc justice. I'm glad they went with stereo.
As per usual with a Columbia disc, this is a barebones affair with no extras to be found. A nice making of featurette would have been ideal, but since this is affordably priced (SRP $14.95), I'm willing to overlook it just this once.
What are you waiting for? Go buy this disc now before the Grinch steals them all!
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