“…and the tree was happy.”
THE GIVING TREE is not one of my favorite works by Shel Silverstein. In part because, as the man himself put it, “It’s just a relationship between two people – one gives and the other takes,” but also because some of the ways in which the book has been interpreted and co-opted makes me squirm. Give me LAFCADIO. Give me the songs, the cartoons, the crime stories. Give me the album that will likely never see the light of day. But THE GIVING TREE? Someone else can take it.
But then I watched the 1973 animated short film of the book, which Shel narrated and scored, and suddenly my eyes were fresh and my prejudices fell away. Maybe it’s how Charlie O. Hayward brought the static pictures to moving life, showing how the apples fall, the branches are cut and the boy who takes morphs into the old man who just wants a place to sit down and rest. Maybe it’s Don Sykes’s skills editing the scenes together into a film just under ten minutes. Maybe it’s the imprimatur of Bosustow Productions, founded by ex-Disney and UPA animator Stephen Bosutsow and later run by his sons Ted and Nick (the latter who co-produced the film with Shel.) Or maybe it’s Shel’s narrative style, his signature yips and yowls displaced by something more subdued, more full of pathos and even regret. Whatever the reason, the end result is a real stunner. I’ve wanted to see it for years and now, thanks to the glories of YouTube (at least for the time being), we all can.