A Delicious Encore
April 17, 2022
Dr. Seuss adaptations are a mixed bag without its guiding lyricist because expanding a short story into a movie remains an unsolved mystery in Hollywood. Ron Howard’s The Grinch split audiences despite becoming a Christmas tradition. The Cat in the Hat, starring Mike Myers, destroyed all future live-action plans for Seuss’s books. Animation showcased more possibilities with Blue Sky’s Horton Hears a Who and Illumination’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas pushing the boundaries of reality. Unfortunately, Illumination’s The Lorax proved that Hollywood doesn’t know how to tackle Seuss’s political stories, with or without Fox News breathing down their back.
Enter Green Eggs and Ham: another short book expanded beyond its capabilities on Netflix. It went off the pages, it repeated cliches, and sometimes the humor dragged. Yet it worked by building an imaginative world around the rhymes and road trip journey. However, there’s no sequel to Green Eggs and Ham like The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. Instead, this second season is a loose adaptation of The Butter Battle Book with a sprinkle of West Side Story. A cold war satire that ends in both sides at a nuclear stalemate, parents scorned the book for scaring their children upon release in 1984. Filmmakers like David H. DePatie, Friz Freleng and Ralph Bakshi carefully adapted The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book alongside Seuss. But in the hands of today’s filmmakers in a fractured country, this couldn’t be in a more awkward position.
Picking up after a peaceful breakfast, Sam-I-Am (Adam DeVine) and Guy-Am-I (Michael Douglas) are caught up in their own adventures. Guy deals with being a stepfather to E.B. (Ilana Glazer) after marrying Michelle (Diane Keaton). Meanwhile, Sam looks for his long-lost mother (Patricia Clarkson) who turns out to be an international spy. Both parties are eventually swept up in a war between the nations of Yookia and Zookia over how to decorate toast: butter side up or butter side down?
Going into this after being disappointed by previous adaptations, the first episode’s cliffhanger hooked me like a fish. A spy angle makes perfect sense for a cold war setting: conspiracies, double crossings, James Bond parodies, confirmation biases, and the threat of nuclear war raise the stakes as the two nations fight over the pettiest problems. While the Yooks were the central focus in the book, they weren’t the protagonists. They were ethnocentric, and this expands on that aspect when portraying the walled off nations. Not everything is as it seems, and as the story progresses the tension ratchets to a nail-biting finale that, while disappointing to purists, still works as a loose adaptation.
Meanwhile the relationships are put to the test with everyone experiencing unfamiliar emotions. Guy and Sam’s contrasting views in the first season laid a foundation for both characters to learn something new. Now they rely on each other more than ever, bringing up tough questions that force them into a corner. Their personalities are so strong that they can debate with one another in front of a fireplace for five episodes and it would still be entertaining. Michael Douglas and Adam DeVine are celebrities, but they’ve grown into these roles like spring flowers. Sam dealing with missing parent syndrome and his mother coming to terms with balancing a tough career and parental responsibility leads to the most tender moments after dodging many dangers. E.B. dealing with a new neighborhood as she pushes beyond the confirmation biases of the warring nations opens a new perspective on life. This perfectly encapsules the political constraints of the past and present when critical thinking is cast aside for emotional thinking.
But what would this be without some of the best animation on the platform? With Netflix and Warner Brothers Animation advocating for traditional hand-drawn techniques, this elevates the bar from the first season. Some of the CGI stands out when mixed in the hand-drawn environment, but the character designs and fluidity keep the illusion alive as Sam and Guy jump from one outlandish scenario to the next. It’s as if Seuss himself came back from the grave and became familiar with the animation tools available to today’s artists. Unfortunately, Netflix failed to give credit to all its animators, instead crediting the studio for the laborious animation. This is an insult to those who put their blood, sweat and tears into the project and it needs to stop because people’s jobs are on the line when they’re not given credit. If Netflix can sink millions of dollars into one episode, they can give credit to individual artists for their hard work. Animation is a collaborative effort, and it needs to be treated as such.
Green Eggs and Ham: The Second Serving is the best Dr. Seuss adaptation to date. The animation raises the bar from the first season despite shady business practices, there’s plenty of tense and tender character moments, and for a loose adaptation of a political Seuss story it handles the material with care and gentile. Admittedly, the Seuss purist within me nitpicks the ending that takes a page from one of the author’s other books. But considering how many times Hollywood failed at padding short stories to an hour and a half, it doesn’t stack up against the positive aspects. No other modern adaptation has come close to capturing the imagination, charm and emotional turmoil that made Dr. Seuss a household name on the page. With the advent of streaming, you can watch this here, there or anywhere. I recommend Green Eggs and Ham, I recommend it Sam-I-Am.