The Butter Battle Book (1989)


Dr. Seuss was one of the few children’s authors who did much more than rhyme brilliantly and tell stories about the Who’s at Whoville celebrating Christmas. And even then when you thought he was just telling you a story about a village celebrating Christmas, he was more commenting on the consumerism of Christmas, and how these villagers didn’t need all the materialism behind it after all. Dr. Seuss spent a good portion of his life writing and drawing political cartoons and ninety percent of the iconic characters in his stories were originally born from his political cartoons and years later when he ventured in to telling stories to kids about Cats in Hats, he was telling us much more about himself and providing a moral.

In spite of being a damn great book, “The Butter Battle Book” was actually censored and pulled off of book shelves for its views on the arms race during the Cold War. Dr. Seuss spoofed the entire Cold War debacle by satirizing the US and Russia by reducing both sides of the war to people so petty they had a war about which side of the bread they buttered. The Yooks and the Zooks are a different kind of village people who prefer their butter on different sides of bread. This little rift causes them to constantly argue back and forth which inevitably leads them in to a veritable arms race.

With their own weapon council, the Yooks and the Zooks spend the entire war looking for ways to outdo one another in the battlefield and for every device, one is made even bigger and bigger until there’s simply nothing left. “The Butter Battle Book” seems like just a simple goofy adventure about two warring villagers fighting over something as petty as butter and bread, but when juxtaposed with the cold war, it’s pretty clear what the stance is by Dr. Seuss and that none of us really got the idea of such a satire when the Cold War was looming in the eighties.

It’s a shame that this special doesn’t get about as much credit as Cat in the Hat or The Grinch does, since it’s likely the most complex and intelligent. Animated by Ralph Bakshi, “The Butter Battle Book” is narrated by Charles Durning who tells the tale of this ridiculous war and leaves us on a thought of where we’re going with this arms race and most importantly, what will it take to put an end to it? It’s a masterful adaptation of the Seuss book and proof on why he continues to be America’s most prominent author.