Todd Alcott

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I was up for the gig writing the screenplay for Where the Wild Things Are a million years ago, when the project was at Universal. I had mixed feelings about taking on the project, because the book is so slim, and so primal, so, well, "wild," that I knew no studio would spend $100 million doing it properly. Where the Wild Things Are should be weird, intense, edgy and deeply personal, the exact opposite of what i knew a studio wanted out of a four-quadrant hit.

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Todd Alcott
27 February 2008 @ 06:47 pm

P.D. Eastman, Wikipedia says, was a protege of Dr. Seuss. His Go, Dog. Go! is a staple of the beginning-to-read set, and his Are You My Mother? is always welcome around my house. But for my money, Sam and the Firefly is not only Eastman's crowning achievement, it is also a compact, brisk, efficient course in storytelling, a small masterwork of character, plot and dramatic structure, far more accomplished than the much-more-famous, but ultimately-rather-meta The Cat in the Hat, and all achieved with a set of words designed for a 5-year-old to read.

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Todd Alcott
06 September 2007 @ 09:38 pm

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Bartholomew and the Oobleck, for the uninitiated, is about a king who gets bored with the weather and commands his creepy magicians to make something new come down from the sky. As I read the first part of this story to my kids tonight, my son Sam (6) interrupted me to ask "Is that really a good idea?"

Oobleck was published in 1949, a time when it seemed that the kings of the world did indeed seem to be bored with the weather of the world and, aided by creepy magicians like Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, deemed it necessary, for reasons having to do with hubris and pride, to have something new fall from the sky.

The narrative tension of Oobleck is palpable as Bartholomew, the lowly page boy, tries first warn the king against his foolish whim, then waits with nameless dread for the coming apocalypse, then desperately races to warn the kingdom of the king's disastrous mistake.

It's hard to read this story without feeling a lot like Bartholomew. We all knew our current king's folly was a bad idea, everyone tried to tell him so, but kings will be kings and so the creepy magicians (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Halliburton, the Carlyle group, PNAC, etc etc etc) created an apocalypse for the boy tyrant.

(With plenty of little army men for him to throw around the floor of his throne room while he made exploding noises, but don't let me mix my metaphors.)

The effects of oobleck, it turns out, can be reversed with a simple act of humility on the part of the king. Our boy king, of course, we have learned is incapable of an act of humility, and even if he were, this particular oobleck is, alas, here to stay. Our boy king's plan, his stated plan, is to keep the war in Iraq going long enough to become someone else's problem, and, theoretically, never end at all.

(A canny commentator remarked recently that Bush is not, and never was, interested in being president. What he was interested in was winning the election. We've seen, indeed, over and over, that Bush's main objective has always been to win, no matter what he has to do, what laws he has to break or who he has to kill to do so. We've also seen that he does, in fact, have no interest in leading, making decisions or doing anything remotely presidential, like treating other leaders, or anyone really, even his own mindless supporters, with anything like dignity or respect.)

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Todd Alcott
24 August 2007 @ 01:58 am

Preamble: When my son Sam (6) first began to read, I handed him a copy of The Cat in the Hat and asked him to read the cover. He went for the "Beginner Books" logo in the lower center of the cover and read aloud, "I CAN READ IT ALL BY MYSELF." Then he looked up, amazed, and said "How did they know that?"

Anyway. To review:

The kids (Sally and I) are All Humanity, and they have been abandoned by God (Mom). They sit and stare out the windows of their house (that is, out the eyes of their skull, or the "windows of their perception" [The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley, 1954, The Cat in the Hat, 1957]).

The kids, however, are not alone. No, Geisel has given them a companion -- a fish. The fish, we will see, functions as their superego. When the Cat encourages the kids to be bad, the fish instructs them to be good. When I first started reading a spiritual metaphor into The Cat in the Hat it seemed flat-footed and obvious that the spiritual superego would be conveyed by a Christ-like fish, but then Geisel is working on a literal level too, and what else would kids have around the house? A gerbil? Would it make sense for a gerbil to pontificate about right and wrong? What's more, a fish is the natural prey of a Cat (and a black cat is the traditional companion of the witch) (and "gerbil" was probably not on the list of permissible words).

So: kids, house, absent God, Christ-fish. Let's move forward.

Todd Alcott
23 August 2007 @ 01:42 pm

It's difficult for us, now, to fully appreciate the impact The Cat in the Hat had on generation of parents, children and educators. The Cat, as an aide to teaching children to read, seems as obvious and omnipresent as the alphabet itself and has not been improved upon in 50 years.

The story of the book, which has been told many times (and can be found in greater detail here), is that the reading programs of the US were a laughingstock for their inefficiency and waste, and an editor of children's books decided to take it upon himself to rectify the situation. (If someone could find the name of that editor, I would be in your debt.)

Ted Geisel (that is, Seuss) was given an assignment to create a children's reading primer that would tell a story that uses only 220 easily-recognized words, which were drawn from a list provided by an educational theorist. One might imagine that a book produced by this technique, in kind and understanding hands, would turn out something like PD Eastman's charming but plotless Go, Dog. Go! But Ted Geisel came up with something more original, daring and explosive.

(Eastman would later climb this mountain beautifully with the woefully underrated Sam and the Firefly, which I hope to get to at another time.)

Todd Alcott
07 February 2007 @ 12:03 am

The inciting incident.

The unnamed protagonist of Dr. Seuss's illustrated story Green Eggs and Ham wants only to be left alone -- to sit in his chair and read his newspaper.  He is content, his world is whole and complete.  He is comfortable and complacent in his McLuhanesque media circuit.  The only thing missing from his life is a name -- an identity.