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Dr. Seuss on the big screen: The highs and lows

A scene from "Dr Seuss' Horton Hears a Who"

Blue Sky Studios/AP

Quick, what's the best Dr. Seuss movie?

It's a trick question.

Some say the best film from the beloved children's author – whose 108th birthday is today – is The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. The 1953 musical fantasy, with screenplay and song lyrics by a pre-Seuss Theodor Geisel himself, was initially panned but has since gained a wide cult following.

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The problem with the Hollywood flicks based on Dr. Seuss, all made after his death in 1991, is expanding his unique rhyming stories – usually done with smart-aleck, pop-culture-reference padding. Seuss collaborated on all the old half-hour animated TV specials of his work. But the live-action movies disappoint by overwhelming the big screen with production design and crude humour. Only animated efforts, so far, have fared better.

Herewith, the best to the worst of Seuss-daptations.

HORTON HEARS A WHO (2008; animation)

The backstory This 1954 book was made into a TV special first, a 1970 production with Hans Conried as both narrator and Horton. Most memorable, though, is the music from the show: Wickersham Brothers Song.

The big screen This time, we're in CG and it's Jim Carrey as Horton. To pad the plot, Dr. Hoovey is turned into the cheery but overworked mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) with a sprawling brood of kids. The movie's big message: "A person's a person, no matter how small."

The bottom line Put the reviews in the wringer and you come out with an average 7 out of 10. But this won several Annie nominations (a top American animation award). Best summation – faithful.

THE LORAX (2012; CGI-3-D)

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The backstory Published in 1971, the book was made into TV fodder a year later with veteran voice actor Bob Holt as both the Lorax and the Once-ler.

The big screen We're in CGI-3-D territory this time, and Danny DeVito provides the voice. To give heft to the story there's the plastic-wrapped town of Thneedville and several characters, including villainous boss O'Hare, who have made a fortune selling bottled air. The point of it all? "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot/nothing is going to get better, it's not."

The bottom line Oscar fare, for sure. So far, reviews hovering around the 7 mark. In its favour are the visuals. Best word for this is eye-popping.


Backstory It took almost a decade for this 1957 story to make it's way to the screen. When it did, it became a classic, with Boris Karloff as the narrator and the Grinch, and the memorable song, You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.

The big screen We're live action this time, care of director Ron Howard. Jim Carrey is still our lead, however, although this time Grinch has a history of childhood ridicule, which is discovered by Cindy Lou, who then wants to integrate him back into Whoville society.

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The bottom line Reviews came closer to a 5.7 ranking, but the film did win an Oscar for best makeup. Alas, the word that comes to mind: shrill.

THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003; live action)

The backstory The 1957 book hit the TV screen in 1971 with the voice of Allan Sherman ( Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh) as the Cat.

The big screen Live action again, with Mike Myers as the Cat – plus an inane subplot involving real-estate agent and single mom (Kelly Preston) and next-door neighbour and slob (Alex Baldwin), who wants to marry her.

The bottom line Critics sent it to the litter box. Razzie winner for Worst Excuse for an Actual Movie. In a word: vulgar.

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