It all starts with a robbery. A thief in all black swings down through the clouds on an umbrella, like a criminal Mary Poppins. The thief swings over the gates of the Glurfsburg Zoo, past a distracted security guard, past the various animals. Stopping in front of a cage, the thief comes face to face with a dark, growling mass. The alarms go off. Sounds of crashing. When the security investigates, the cage is busted wide open, the animal gone.
For those of us who grew up through the rhymes of the pseudonymous doctor, the story doesn’t sound like any Dr. Suess book we’ve ever read. His rhyming picture books have sustained through the cultural imagination since they came out in the ’50s and ’60s. Every few years or so, we get yet another attempt to reinvent his books for the big screen, even though it never quite captures the original magic. Netflix’s new attempt at “Green Eggs and Ham” may be simple, but to its credit, it’s also interesting and fun.
The story this time around follows Guy-Am-I (Michael Douglas, “Wall Street”), a grumpy, failed inventor who turns out to be the only inventor not chosen to go to Meepville to present his invention. He also does not like green eggs and ham — not that he’s ever tried it. This is information given to Sam-I-Am (Adam DeVine “Workaholics”), a happy-go-lucky inventor. It turns out the latter is also the thief from the beginning having stolen the Chickeraffe, a dangerous animal that the police now believe on the loose in the streets of Glurfsburg. Only it isn’t. It’s in Sam-I-Am’s briefcase. But when Sam and Guy accidentally swap briefcases at a diner, things get a little tricky.
One of the most remarkable things about this show is the cast and crew. Michael Douglas and Adam DeVine aren’t the only big names. Diane Keaton (“Annie Hall”) also voices a character known as Michellee, an overprotective mother of a very spunky daughter. Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”) even voices a French mouse. However, the true star of the show is Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele”), who voices the narrator. For all the show’s attempts at reinvention, Key’s confused, rhyming narrator is by far the best addition. Here, he’s both funny and charming, managing not to overwhelm the story, but keep it fresh and upbeat.
The original book is 72 pages in length, often with one, maybe two sentences on each page (usually concerning where one might eat green eggs and ham, with a bold refute). The fact that Netflix managed to turn the story into a 13-episode series says a lot about just how much the streaming service added to its story. The inventor plot, thus far, seems to work well enough. It’s a very simple story but, then again, so is the original “Green Eggs and Ham,” so it’s hard to complain about that.
Something I particularly admire about this adaption is the animation. There have been a number of animated adaptations in the past twenty years, such as “The Lorax” or “Horton Hears a Who.” But Netflix’s “Green Eggs and Ham” appeals to the older, hand-drawn animated specials from the ’60s and ’70s. There’s a kind of nostalgic charm in seeing such a fun, relaxed application of a very old animation style.
All in all, the original plot of “Green Eggs and Ham” works much the same way other Dr. Suess books have: It is a framework onto which larger, entertaining stories can be told. I can’t say it’s the most sophisticated show or even the best offering for younger audiences, but it does appeal to nostalgia. It may even be good.