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TV Reviews : Thoughtfulness Triumphs in Animated ‘Butter Battle’

Ralph Bakshi, the iconoclastic director of “Fritz the Cat,” and Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, the popular children’s author, sound like an odder couple than Neil Simon’s Felix and Oscar. But their talents blend to make “The Butter Battle Book” (airing tonight at 5 p.m. on TNT) one of the most thoughtful and original animated specials in recent years.

“The Butter Battle Book,” Geisel’s parody of the superpower arms race, recalls the war in “Gulliver’s Travels” between Lilliput and Blefuscu over which end of a boiled egg to crack. The Yooks eat their eggs with the butter side up ; the neighboring Zooks eat theirs with the butter side down. As a child, every Yook is taught, “you can’t trust a Zook who spreads his underneath.”

A border conflict involving a slingshot escalates into a battle between wonderful Seussian armaments, including the “Eight-Nozzled, Elephant-Toted Boom-Blitz.” Finally, the rival researchers create a weapon capable of blowing their foes to smithereens: “The Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo.” Geisel ends his story with the Yook and Zook generals atop a dividing wall, too scared to drop their Boomeroos--or put them down.

The program was obviously made on a minimal budget, but Bakshi deploys his resources skillfully, deftly moving the camera to compensate for the limits of the animation. The visuals, adapted from Geisel’s illustrations, are supported by Charles Durning’s understated reading of the narration and Glem Daum’s forlornly martial score.

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Unlike standard cartoon specials, “The Butter Battle Book” offers parents an opportunity to discuss a vital issue with their children. When, upon the book’s publication in 1984, Geisel was criticized for troubling young readers with the adult problem of nuclear arms, he replied: “Kids see it, they hear about it, they know it’s there. You’re not telling them anything they don’t already know.”


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