Doctored by Hollywood: Seuss books have had ups, downs in Tinseltown

John Monaghan
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!

Director: Steve Martino
Cast: Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell, Carol Burnett, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Isla Fisher, Dan Fogler, Amy Poehler, Dane Cook
MPAA rating: G
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Display Artist: Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2008-03-14 (General release)
US Release Date: 2008-03-14 (General release)

Though Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was involved with moviemaking during his days with Frank Capra's Armed Forces Motion Picture unit during World War II, he was wary about the way his work would be depicted on the screen.

His death in 1991 meant less selective licensing of the Seuss name on movies, TV shows, straight-to-video releases, even on Broadway.

With "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" opening Friday, consider this list of mostly theatrical releases that have attempted - and occasionally succeeded - in adapting the good doctor for the screen.

"Horton Lays the Egg" (1942): Seuss' first movie adaptation was this uneven mix of whimsy and wacky Warner Bros. cartoon non sequiturs. The elephant doesn't forget his pledge to protect an egg, while director Bob Clampett delivers topical gags, including a fish that shoots himself in the head and a bird with pipes like Katharine Hepburn.

"Gerald McBoing Boing" (1951): The UPA animation studio did a better job with this Seuss story about a kid who doesn't talk but makes noises instead. The cartoon's modern design, playful soundtrack and respect for the Seuss sensibility earned it an Oscar for best animated short.

"The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T." (1953): Seuss wrote the story and lyrics. He also had a hand in the surreal set design of this live-action fantasy musical about a boy (Tommy Rettig of "Lassie") who is enslaved by his evil piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried), on a monster piano. It was a flop when first released, but the movie's do-mi-do dose of Seussian weirdness has since earned it a deserved cult following.

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" (1966): Though made for television, this 26-minute adaptation had plenty of Hollywood pedigrees in its take on the holiday-hating title character. With horror legend Boris Karloff narrating and veteran animator Chuck Jones at the helm, the cartoon has become a holiday chestnut.

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000) and "The Cat in the Hat" (2003): These recent live-action versions of Seuss standards cleaned up at the box office but are generally reviled by true fans. Basically big-budget vehicles for stars Jim Carrey and Mike Myers, the movies found critics gleefully rhyming words like "spastic" and "bombastic."

"Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" (2008): Computer animation proves a better fit for this Seuss spectacle in which Horton (Carrey again) protects tiny creatures no one else can see. The G rating may shield it from the usual fart jokes and kid-movie double entendres. Best of all, Horton's s message about caring for fellow creatures appears intact.

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