At one point in Netflix’s Green Eggs And Ham, Keegan-Michael Key’s narrator asks, “Is this in the book?” About 99.99% of the new animated series is not. The original book consisted of all of 50 words (which Dr. Seuss wrote on a bet), a journey that involved an unnamed character refusing to try Sam I Am’s green eggs and ham dish, in the rain on a train, in a house with a mouse, in a box with a fox, and on a boat with a goat until eventually caving at the end.
Since the new series was announced, many have wondered how in the world you would make a 13-episode season of television out of that. To stretch out that premise like an all-year sucker, producer Jared Stern (The Lego Batman Movie) drafts several more storylines onto the original one, using green eggs and ham as a faintly unifying element. The unnamed grouchy character is now named Guy Am I, with Michael Douglas taking an unexpected and successful turn into voice-over work (although he did previously appear in an episode of Phineas And Ferb). Sam is irrepressibly portrayed by Adam Devine, with the familiar mouse, fox, and goat played by Daveed Diggs, Tracy Morgan, and John Turturro, respectively. From then on all the characters are new fabrications, with the biggest additions being Diane Keaton as overprotective mother Michellee and Ilana Glazer as her daughter EB, the cutest young Seuss heroine since Cindy Lou Who. Somehow Michellee, EB, and Guy get sucked into Sam’s kidnapping of the rare Chickeraffe as greedy pet hunter Snerz (Eddie Izzard) wants to add it to his captured pet collection; his motto is “If you love something, tie it down.” Hey, y’know what’s going to sound bananas no matter how hard you try? A long-form Dr. Seuss-based plot.
Actually, the plot is the clunkiest part of the series, as Sam and Guy’s journey makes a plethora of upside-down twists and turns, from the world’s most whacked-out amusement park to a jail where Diggs’ mouse performs an excellent send-up of Les Misérables. The traveling seems more contrived than compelling—obviously if the pair weren’t stuck on the road, this would be a really short series. Stern calls back to the original book by giving each of these source elements their own chapters, like “Mouse,” “Box,” and “Rain”—even as Sam and Guy get trapped in habitats from a junkyard to the desert to a frozen tundra and escape an extremely high percentage of life-threatening incidents. But some of the landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful and—in the Seuss tradition—impressively imaginative: For example, a train has an opulent Esther Williams-inspired bathing car, as well as its own car full of model trains (the meta “model train car”), or an elaborate treehouse surrounded by multi-colored lanterns. Swap a plane in for a boat and Green Eggs And Ham actually has a lot in common with Planes, Trains & Automobiles: a tightly wound traveler stuck with a kind but overenthusiastic companion, heading into one on-the-road pitfall after another.
It’s hard to tear your eyes from this journey, no matter how arduous, for one vital reason: Green Eggs And Ham is gorgeous. It’s estimated that GE&H is the most expensive animated series ever made, roughly costing $6 million per episode. Sure, the extensive voice cast can account for part of that, as can the series’ liberal use of classic rock songs from The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to Elvis Presley’s “Return To Sender.” Weezer even does the theme song. But most likely, the most important budget element is what Netflix bills as “cinema-quality hand-drawn 2D animation.” The vivid palette and imaginative details rival the best of Dr. Seuss animation, like How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the original The Cat In The Hat—an extremely high bar.
So if you’re a parent looking for a new binge-watch for your youngster (to keep them out of your hair while you’re preparing Thanksgiving dinner, say)—run, don’t walk, to this series. But it’s not necessarily the type of show that parents will love as much as the kids. They’ll be riveted by the energetic, brightly colored animation, no question. And you may catch some of the series’ sneaky callouts, like a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to Douglas’ Romancing The Stone, a familiar Groundhog Day character, and a creature counting at one point, “One fish, two fish, red fish…” But like Dr. Seuss books themselves, this is a creation crafted primarily with the kids in mind, and may even lead them to hang out longer in the Dr. Seuss aisle at the library.
To its credit, Green Eggs And Ham attempts to weave in some life lessons within all the wamwhoozles and kerpfluffles. The importance of character backstory, even of the greedy Snerz, cannot be overstated. Michellee, naturally, learns to lighten up a bit. For all the million times Guy declares his intention to stay away from Sam, eventually his companion’s infectious friendliness rubs off (just like in that other movie), and he’s no longer a loner. There’s a nice twist in the final episodes that is a good reminder that people are not always what they appear to be. And the ultimate message of Green Eggs And Ham remains steadfastly intact, to the joy of parents of picky eaters everywhere: “How will you know you won’t like it if you’ve never tried it?”