Disney Versus Seuss

By Megan Willome

Life isn't always a fairy tale

A friend who is a new parent sent out a mass email with fourteen points detailing how to raise great kids. After I read each Biblically-inspired point, I hung my head in shame. I’ve already failed parenthood. As each bright new day dawns, I chunk another parenting maxim out the window.
Yep. I’m no longer a Disney parent; I’m a Seuss parent.

I realized this distinction when my daughter sang in the chorus of a local production of “Seussical: The Musical.” In the song “How Lucky You Are,” the infamous Cat in the Hat warns, “Think of life as a thrill, and if worse comes to worse, (as we all know it will).”

Contrast that view with the maudlin song, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from the Disney classic, “Pinocchio.” Jiminy Cricket promised, “Anything your heart desires will come to you.”

Really? So far most of my heart’s desires remain unfulfilled, especially those involving my children. On the other hand, occasionally “worse does come to worse” in our house, and we live to tell the tale. Sometimes we even laugh about it.

Although I was raised in a home filled with love, our family was not cut from the Disney cloth, complete with our own overly-enthusiastic laugh track. We had bad times, too. I didn’t need to believe in myself or sprinkle pixie dust. I needed the good doctor — Dr. Seuss.

Actually, Theodor Seuss Giesel was no doctor. He used the title as a marketing tool. After he was kicked off the Dartmouth humor magazine for hosting a dorm room party during Prohibition, he took Seuss as his pen name. Later he worked as an ad man and a political cartoonist. He is best known, of course, for his children’s books.

He published over 70 titles using three different names: Dr. Seuss, Theo. LeSieg (Giesel spelled backward) and Rosetta Stone. Few American children grow up without exposure to those wacky illustrations and rhymes.

And what rhymes! Life falls into perspective when crammed into anapestic tetrameter, Seuss’s favorite rhyme scheme. Don’t try to slice and dice it like an English teacher — just enjoy it. As a Texan, I particularly like how he rhymed “mayor” with “there” in “Horton Hears a Who.”

I discovered Horton and other Seussians as a parent rather than as a child. One hot summer day, my children and I made oobleck from “Bartholemew and the Oobleck.” That sticky green gunk ranks as my most creative moment of mommyhood. Later, my first child made it through “Green Eggs and Ham.” It was tough! It was long! We persevered and finished strong through a book Seuss wrote on a bet he couldn’t write a book with only 50 words. Forty-nine of them have only one syllable. The exception: anywhere.

There is something subversive about Seuss. “The Butter Battle Book” and “The Lorax,” are wild parables about such controversial subjects as environmentalism and nuclear war. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” tackles materialism. All three of these stories use fear to inspire change. The Grinch used to terrify me until I grew up and learned that Grinches are real.

Disney, however, tends to tone down stories. In “26 Fairmount Avenue,” children’s author and illustrator Tomie de Paola described watching “Snow White” on the big screen as a young boy. He threw a fit when Disney left out the evil queen dancing herself to death in red-hot iron shoes. He wanted his fairy tale with the pathos intact.

DePaola’s angst brings up a hot-button question in children’s literature. How much is too much? When the Harry Potter series debuted, I thought it was too dark. Not until I read all seven books did I agree with my college roommate, who said in Harry’s defense, “Evil things really do happen; and it is so, so tempting for most people to pretend that they do not.”

When I read Seuss, I accept the presence of evil while still looking for a smile hiding in the lavender bushes. He often mixed horror with humor. Consider the sleepwalking, candle-bearing Crandalls from “The Sleep Book.”

“The Candalls walk nightly in slumbering peace in spite of slight burns from the hot dripping grease.” Peace despite grease.

I don’t see the same gravitas in Disney, which feels too neatly packaged with its cast of impeccably dressed, wisecracking rich kids. Most of the kids I know are more like Seuss characters — awkward, goofy, and desperately short of cash.

I don’t know how my children will turn out, even if I were to follow all fourteen points of perfect parenting. In “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Seuss said their chances of success are “98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.” For the other one and one-quarter percent called Life, they’ll need a little Seuss.