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Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat - Deluxe Edition

Blu-Ray Review by Jon Cooke

The children's books of Dr. Seuss have always been a perfect fit for animation. You can look at examples such as Bob Clampett's 1942 Merrie Melody, "Horton Hatches the Egg", or Chuck Jones' adaptation of the holiday favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). In fact, the tradition continues today with big budget CGI versions of Seuss creations (such as the recent Lorax film). Throughout the 1970s, there was a series of Seuss television specials produced by the DePatie-Freleng studio (best known for the Pink Panther cartoons). While these specials never really reached the level of popularity as the Chuck Jones specials, they always seemed to be in circulation, either on home video or cable television. Previously, the home video rights were held by Universal Home Video who released them in a series of lackluster releases through the early 2000's. The video rights have now landed at Warner Home Video, who have been issuing them in a series of "Deluxe Edition" DVD/Blu-Ray packs. The latest is the Deluxe Edition of a TV special based on one of Seuss' most famous works, The Cat in the Hat. (Previous Warner/Seuss Blu-Rays have been The Lorax (1972) and Green Eggs and Ham (1971, a/k/a Dr. Seuss on the Loose).

I had not seen either of the earlier releases, so I didn't know what to expect from a so-called "Deluxe Edition". I was pleasantly surprised. The picture quality of the main feature, the 1971 Cat in the Hat TV special, was phenomenal. Obviously a brand-new transfer which, picture quality-wise, was easily on par with the Warner remasterings of their theatrical animated shorts. I had never seen this special look this good.

>Speaking of classic theatrical shorts, if you are a fan of those it's hard not to be impressed when you see that opening credits scroll. Names of legends like Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng are there (both as producers), along with direction by Hawley Pratt and designs by Maurice Noble. Top it off with a voice cast that features comedy legend Allan Sherman (as the Cat) and Daws Butler (as the cantankerous fish, Mr. Krinklebein). The talent behind the special is rather unbelievable. The show started life as a project between Ted Geisel (Seuss) and Chuck Jones while Jones was still working at MGM in the late 1960s. It was to be the third in the series of television adaptations following Grinch and Horton Hears a Who. According to cartoonist and DePatie-Freleng expert, Chuck Akira, Jones and Geisel had a falling out and Jones' animation unit at MGM was closing, so the project found its way to DePatie-Freleng's studio instead.

The special itself also is much more faithful to the original Seuss illustrations than the Jones specials were (as great as those are, they have Jones' trademark style all over them). The special really does look like the pages of the book coming to life. The original book is very short and the story is rather thin, so the TV special has a lot of filler in the form of silly nonsense songs and surreal visual sequences. The songs of the show are very catchy, even though it had been a few years since I watched the special, I found some songs still buried inside my memory (such as "Calculatus Eliminatus" and the Cat singing about himself - "In English, Cat. Hat. In French, Chat. Chapeau."). Even with the short running time, the special still feels stretched out, which is probably why it never reached the "classic" status of the Grinch. It is still an enjoyable half-hour and worth watching.

To help fill out the disc (and live up to the "Deluxe Edition" banner), there was two bonus Dr. Seuss specials which are, sadly, not remastered at all. They just used the same old video masters. You get 1975's "Hoober-Bloob Highway", which looks especially poor with a dark, muddy picture. Another DePatie-Freleng effort, though the animation in the special looks less like Seuss and more like a generic 1970s Saturday Morning TV show. There is also the more modern "Daisy-Head Mayzie" from 1995 and based on an unpublished Seuss work. The special, produced for cable television by Hanna-Barbera, is rather unmemorable and has been issued as a bonus on past Warner/Seuss DVDs. There is also a "Sing-Along" feature which will play the Cat special over again, but with the lyrics appearing on screen in a Seuss-style font.

If you find the Blu-Ray at a decent price, I'd say it is worth adding to your collection. I'd just have hard time justifying paying full price for a disc where the main attraction only has a 25 minute running time.