614. The Butter Battle Book – Ralph Bakshi

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SUMMARY: The Yooks and the Zooks are two opposing nations separated by a large wall. Their dispute over the proper side on which to butter bread quickly escalates into all out war, with more and more dangerous weapons being developed.

WHY IT’S HERE: Independent animator Ralph Bakshi is a cult director whose work I have never been fond of. The boundary pushing controversy of his early films felt overwhelmingly desperate in its insistent barrage of obscenity but at least showed a determined ambition in their more inventive scenes. His later films relied heavily on ugly technique of rotoscoping and largely fell flat in terms of storytelling. But for one TV special at least, my appreciation of Bakshi’s work wholly matched up with my interest in it. His adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s satire ‘The Butter Battle Book’ is at once the bleakest, most devastating Seuss adaptation and, according to Seuss himself, the most faithful. An allegory for the arms race with particular reference to the Cold War and the threat of nuclear destruction, ‘The Butter Battle Book’ is one of Seuss’s most powerful and serious works and Bakshi lends his uncompromising style to its TV adaptation. There is a pleasingly rough edge to the sketchier way Seuss’s creations are presented which it befitting of the more downbeat material and Bakshi manages to retain Seuss’s unresolved ending in all its terrifying glory. While the story is clearly influenced by ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, Seuss and Bakshi both do a great job of reproducing the idea in a way that both adults and children will appreciate. But not all fans of previous Seuss adaptations will warm so easily to this politically-charged piece. Watching as a double bill with ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ for instance, ‘The Butter Battle Book’ is a very bitter pill to swallow.

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