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The Conversation: Is Johnny Depp the Best Choice to Star in a Biopic of Dr. Seuss?

As we reported earlier, Johnny Depp is set to make a biopic on Theodor Geissel, aka Dr. Seuss, at Universal Pictures. Obviously, as everyone is pointing out, he’s perfect for the starring role because he’s good at playing famous writers (J.M. Barrie; Hunter S. Thompson) and creepily fantastical characters in family films (Edward Scissorhands; Willy Wonka; Mad Hatter; Capt. Jack Sparrow), and to his certain disappointment he really can’t portray Shel Silverstein instead. 

Where most writers in the blog media are also in agreement is that this should be a serious affair without Depp hamming and without any of the “animated bells and whistles” currently being considered. I disagree. While I think it should be dramatic, with much focus on war, infidelity, suicide and of course his personal fear of children — partly because that’s exactly what a lot of the world wouldn’t expect — I like the idea of characters coming to life in a minimal extent, as in the underrated Lewis Carroll film Dreamcatcher.

Perhaps Depp can even let Bo Welch redeem himself here by hiring the Cat in the Hat director to at least do some production design work more reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands, mixing together the dark and colorful sides of Seuss. A serious film doesn’t have to be drag, and an imaginative film doesn’t have to be altogether kooky. I have great faith that Depp will find the proper balance. 

Here’s the conversation going round the web in response to the news:

The project is young still, not quite underway.
But if Depp has his way, then we’ll see it some day.
And a film about Seuss? This is long overdue!
The man who imbued us with many a Hoo.
So celebrate, all, this splendiforous news.
A movie, by Johnny, about Dr. Seuss.

– Michael Arbeiter,

I find it interesting that people right away assume that this is going to be another performance like The Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka or Captain Jack Sparrow.  Why?  Dr. Seuss was not one of his own characters.  He was a guy who lived from one end of the 20th Century to the other, working in advertising, publishing political cartoons and propaganda work during WWII, and finally helping to redefine children’s literature with his classic works that are still read around the world. – Drew McWeeny, HitFix

Hopefully Depp ends up having some fun with the role, and the Seuss biopic doesn’t take itself too seriously. Geisel had an interesting life cut too short by throat cancer in 1991, but if the producers behind the film are thinking some animation might be in order, our fingers are crossed that they’ll focus on the children’s book-writing aspect of his career. And then oh, the places they’ll go. – Terri Schwartz, IFC News

But though Universal and Despicable Me production company Illumination Entertainment are behind the new movie, don’t go expecting too much in the way of CG tinkering this time. That said, given Seuss’ style and visual imagination, there’s always a chance it could show up. We’re just crossing our fingers no one tries to get Mike Myers back in his awful Cat suit. – James White, Empire

Hopefully, this will be more grounded, like the last time Depp played a beloved author on screen in Finding Neverland.  2004 just seems like a long time ago in Depp Years. – Brendan Bettinger, Collider

Hint: More Finding Neverland, less Ed Wood, and it’ll be fine [with the Seuss estate] – S.T. VanAirsdale, Movieline

We only cordially ask that Tim Burton sits this one out. – Jeff Anderson, Pop2it

The author’s life is ripe for a great story, and with Depp involved, perhaps there’s a chance that some of Seuss’ trademark worlds could come to life in the biopic as well. – Ethan Anderton, First Showing

while this won’t be some kind of CGI 3D IMAX visual mindfuck (thank god), producers are keeping the door open for a smaller use of animation or other effects. And while normally we’d roll our eyes at this, it’s actually pretty appropriate for a Seuss biopic considering the characters he created were half the fun. – Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist

What could be interesting would be if the production company – Illumination Entertainment, the animation company behind Despicable Me – created animated versions of Seuss stories for the film. In fact, I’m willing to bet that’s the way it’ll go. – Devin Faraci, Badass Digest

One has a feeling that this is going to be an incredibly odd film.  That said, as long as it avoids the horrors and atrociousness of the live action Cat in the Hat and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas adaptations—films whose images still scar my retinas—this Dr. Seuss biopic might actually be a pretty interesting film.  But only as long as Jim Carrey and Mike Myers stay far, far away from it. – Travis Woods, Screen Crave

It would be tempting, I suppose, to write in some animated interludes in which the creative spirit of Geisel comes to life as he creates the Dr. Seuss persona and the books that bear the name. But that also seems like the easy road. […] There’s a heartwarming story in Geisel’s tale — The Cat in the Hat was written in response to an editor’s challenge to write a book kids couldn’t resist, spurred by illiteracy rates in kids — but it might not be the most cinematic story if told straight. So the easy road might be very, very tempting. – Russ Fischer, /Film

Keith Bunin has been hired for the screenplay, and will hopefully litter it with references to a young Geisel refusing to eat moldy pork, improperly buttering his bread, and otherwise indicating goofy examples on the origin of ever famous Dr. Seuss tale. Fair warning, though, Bunin: if a dramatic moment of child abuse somehow mutates into the inception of Hop on Pop, that is when I will leave the theater. – Mark, I Watch Stuff

Theodor Geisel is a real person – and not just another pale-faced weirdo partially imagined by Tim Burton – so a biographic film about the artist could allow Depp the chance to create a fully-realized onscreen persona… rather than deliver another performance where it feels like he’s just constantly mugging at the camera. – Sandy Schaefer, Screen Rant

While it’s always fun to watch Depp play against a kooky backdrop, I’m hoping producers stick to their word […] the life [of] Theodor Geisel is a fascinating story in and of itself. (For instance, as a college student, Geisel violated the laws of prohibition and began creating his cartoons under the guise of Seuss, his middle name and his mother’s maiden name.) Why overshadow his story with psychedelic CGI? – Aly Semigran, Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch

Geisel’s voice was an amalgam of Fred MacMurray and Snagglepuss and he always wore a three-foot top hat, because who’s to say he didn’t? – Sean O’Neal, A.V. Club

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