When you think of the best of the Dr. Seuss movies, perhaps 2003’s The Cat in the Hat is not one you find very groovy. But what about The Lorax or the most recent The Grinch? Do those animated adaptations make you laugh or make you flinch?
Surely there is no way Hollywood can replace the warmth and joy from your toes to your face that those books and old TV specials once made you feel. Yet, they can be just as fun on a feature-length reel. Reinventing Dr. Seuss’ world with an all-star cast, whether animated or live action, has been mostly a blast.
But just how do these cinematic Seussical hits rank against each other, based on faith, style and, wit? Here’s my picks for the best Dr. Seuss films of all time, and don’t worry: that’s all I have written in rhyme.
5. The Lorax (2012)
Dr. Seuss (née Theodore Seuss Geisel) was always a master of subtle social commentary, yet his message could not be clearer in The Lorax, in which the titular orange grump (voiced by Danny DeVito) takes on the Once-ler (Ed Helms), an environmentally threatening industrialist. Like the book, the feature-length animated adaptation is framed as a flashback to explain why trees no longer exist in Thneed-Ville, but reimagines it as a young boy's (Zac Efron) search of the rare plant for his dream girl (pop star Taylor Swift), which leads him to become acquainted with the man responsible for their extinction. The bloated subplot and hit-or-miss humor struggles to live up to its source material's simple cautionary tale, but it at least gets its eco-friendly message across at a time when such awareness is needed more than ever.
4. The Grinch (2018)
Illumination's take on The Lorax was successful enough to earn the chance of an animated reinterpretation of a Dr. Seuss property even more iconic, and one that would be guaranteed TV airplay on an annual basis. Benedict Cumberbatch lends his voice to the title role of The Grinch, co-directed by longtime Kevin Smith collaborator Scott Mosier, which follows the the green, furry fiend's war on holiday festivities in Whoville, a story the world knows quite well already. Despite its familiarity, the family film became a financial success of unexpectedly huge returns and had many critics and audiences convinced that it surpassed the live-action version starring Jim Carrey... yeah, we shall see about that.
3. The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T (1953)
Outside of, maybe, The Cat in Hat, this is probably the one title you least expected to appear on this list as you, more than likely, have never heard of it before. That is quite understandable considering the initial poor reception and dismal box office returns of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, in which a young, reluctant piano student (Tommy Rettig) daydreams he is one of 500 boys enslaved to play the black and whites for life by a mad music teacher (Hans Conreid). However, this film, from the only feature-length screenplay Dr. Seuss ever wrote, should be noted, and honored, for its Oscar-nominated music and exceedingly unique concept, as well as being one of the the first major attempts to translate the author's surrealist vision into a live action setting.
2. Horton Hears A Who! (2008)
As previously mentioned, Dr. Seuss had a knack for making big, real-world statements through a whimsical lens, whether his younger audiences realize it or not. One of the more notable examples of this is Horton Hears a Who!, the story of an elephant struggling to protect the microscopic inhabitants of a speck of dust from his disbelieving jungle friends, which has long been a source of speculation among grown-up fans over its hidden meaning. I will not go too far down the rabbit hole over that because, regardless, this animated hit, in which Jim Carrey voices the title role and his pal Steve Carell plays Whoville's mayor, is one of the funniest and most charming Seuss adaptations in recent memory. It's also one of the few that, despite some necessary creative liberties, remains "faithful, 100 percent" to the heart of the story.
Honorable Mention: How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Before we reach the top of our ranking, an article focusing on Dr. Seuss adaptations would feel incomplete without some inclusion of arguably the greatest holiday tradition that the author's work ever inspired. The animated TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas, originally airing on CBS on December 18, 1966, stars screen legend Boris Karloff (known best as both Frankenstein's Creature and The Mummy from Universal's iconic monster movie lineup) as both the title character and narrator of this straightforward retelling of the fiendish crime thriller that becomes a heartwarming (or heart-growing) redemption tale. Plus, if not for this 26-minute classic, we have never gotten what I believe is the finest feature-length Seuss adaptation to date.
1. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Before providing the voice of Horton, Jim Carrey had already established himself as a good-luck charm for Dr. Seuss adaptations by bringing his incomparable physicality and energetic wit to what is arguably the definitive portrayal of the Grinch. This dazzlingly funny extension of the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas earned an Academy Award nomination for its engrossingly authentic recreation of Whoville in live-action and won an Oscar for Rick Baker's astonishing makeup. Most critics may not have wanted to touch this one with a 39 and a half-foot pole, but that did not stop it from becoming a beloved holiday tradition for all ages and a dramatic, yet welcome, change of pace for director Ron Howard (yes, that Ron Howard).
What do you think? Did my choices steal your heart or are you actually disappointed I did not include Mike Myers’ The Cat in the Hat? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on how Dr. Seuss continues to influence the media, as well as even more lists ranking the best in pop culture, here on CinemaBlend.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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