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Netflix hits the spot with 'Green Eggs and Ham'

  • ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ is an animated series based on the children’s book by Dr Seuss
  • It is a beautiful-looking show, which constantly makes room for clever sight gags

A scene from ‘Green Eggs And Ham’.
A scene from ‘Green Eggs And Ham’.

I adore Green Eggs And Ham. My favourite among the wondrous books authored by the legendary Dr Seuss, this one is meant for a child learning not only to read but understand what words actually are. After a wager with his publisher, Dr Seuss wrote this brilliant book using only 50 words, telling the story of young Sam, who loves the titular dish and keeps suggesting it be tried in varied contexts, while an unnamed grump keeps turning him down. If you have never read this book out loud to an irrepressible niece or precocious godson, I urge you to—for you as much as them. It is an absolute marvel.

This is now a Netflix series. That is immediate ground for cynicism, for the idea of stretching 50 words into 13 episodes sounds like the unholiest of cash-grabs. I clicked on this new title with my nose turned up, like one unenthused by food no matter how green: be it chartreuse or mint or avocado, I would not give in to this Netflix plan—or so I thought till I began.

Green Eggs And Ham is scrumptious from the start. The hand-drawn 2D animation comes to us in glorious 4K—it’s fabulous looking, like a Dr Seuss colouring book come alive—and one of the first things that happens is clearly as startling for the narrator (Keegan-Michael Key) as it is for us. “Shut the front door!" he exclaims. “That’s a ninja!" Then, calmer, he justifies: “This is Dr Seuss, so I wasn’t expecting…." Exactly. This is not the Dr Seuss we already know, but the sensibilities are in place, as is the all-important whimsy. There is a loopy plot straight out of a buddy comedy, featuring a kidnapped Chickeraffe (part chicken, part giraffe), bad guys who have business cards, foxes trying their best to stop eating eggs, references to Groundhog Day, and train carriages dedicated to thinking about what you have done.

Adam Devine voices the irrepressibly sunny Sam-I-Am (the reason Black Eyed Peas founder spells his name thus), who bounces from crazy idea to crazy idea till he runs into a curmudgeonly inventor named Guy-Am-I, who can only invent things that explode. Voiced by Michael Keaton, Guy is quick to shut down Sam’s declarations of best friendship and even quicker to declare that he will not try his green eggs and ham. Not in a boat, not in a box, not in the dark, not with a fox (a goat also features, and is fittingly played by John Turturro, truly one of the greatest of all time.)

Each episode is named after one of the places or things that “go with" the ham and eggs as listed in the book—“Fox", “Dark", “Train", “Rain"—but Sam’s ebullient attempts to push the food on Guy occasionally show reason here, like when he suggests green eggs and ham in the dark because “the lack of sight truly heightens your other senses". When Guy snaps, “No, I will not eat them in a car"—straight out of the book—Sam raises an eyebrow: “That is an oddly specific stance to take on the matter."

They keep crossing paths with overprotective single mother Michellee and her adventure-starved daughter EB. When she gets home from work, Michellee checks EB’s face and hair for “traces of exhilaration or whimsy" and, when travelling, binds her to herself with protective friendship bracelets. Michellee is a terrific character, one who literally counts beans for work (and fun, it appears) and has auto-locks for the auto-locks in her car, which is itself covered in bubble wrap and driven very slowly. She’s voiced by Diane Keaton, and the unlikely sparks between her and Guy mean we get to experience a beautiful Keaton-Keaton romance we never saw on screen.

There is, of course, a villain, a dastardly tycoon voiced by the fantastical Eddie Izzard, trying hard to look casually threatening to his cronies, who orders accompaniment music like “Bone Chilling Crescendo in C Minor". He has set two Bad Guys™ on our heroes’ trail, all in the quest of an adorable and goofy Chickeraffe who, like any of us, may or may not be delicious. Not that anyone’s wondering.

It is a beautiful-looking show, with gorgeous water-coloured backdrops of sunsets and elaborate train sets—with magically meta model trains within them. It also constantly makes room for tiny sight gags, like can openers (small robots who cheer for the user, telling him he can indeed open a can) and night scenes featuring fireflies that can be switched off like a night light. Dr Seuss would have grinned at that one.

Executive-produced by Ellen DeGeneres, Green Eggs And Ham is an all-star treat. The 13 half-hour episodes are longer than most children’s television shows, but will hold their attention, and yours. It may ultimately be predictable but there’s a whole lot of charm at play here, and it’s grand to see lovingly rendered 2D animation—that comes at a price. At a staggering $6 million (around 43 crore) an episode, making this the most expensive animated series.

Netflix has long been a fine place for adult animation. BoJack Horseman is their finest show, and Netflix India carries winners like Archer and Rick & Morty, but this series for younger viewers left me grinning, as pleased as punch. This is a show as beatific as brunch.

Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather

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