TITLE: The Lorax
WITH THE VOICE TALENTS OF: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White
DIRECTORS: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
STUDIO: Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment
RUN TIME: 94 min
RELEASED: March 2, 2012
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Lora Van Marel
Staff Writer, One-Woman Show
Every so often, a film comes along that is of such quality, such poise, such graceful execution, that it becomes woven into the very fabric of popular culture. Such a film never truly ages, as its nearly universal appeal transforms it into an instant classic that, like fine wine, gets better with age.
Then you have a film like The Lorax, which hits so many of the wrong notes it actually gets crappier with age. Considering how crappy it is now, that’s a scary thought.
Loosely based on the classic children’s book by Dr. Seuss, the movie is centered around Ted, a boy hoping to impress his neighbor Audrey by finding her a truffula tree. Such trees, and trees in general, are non-existent in the hyper-industrialized town of Thneedville, where the mayor, Mr. O’Hare, has made a fortune on bottled air, and light-up electric trees are all the rage. Searching for a real tree, Ted seeks out the Once-ler, who famously destroyed the forest of truffula trees outside Thneedville. Remorsefully, The Once-ler tells Ted his story, and about the only creature who warned him of the error of his ways, the guardian of the forest, The Lorax.
When you make a big budget movie based on a kids book, you often need to take a few creative liberties simply for the sake of stretching the story out. I get that, and I fully expected it. I’m certainly not one of those viewers who pans everything in a movie that isn’t a move-for-move duplication of the book. But when you do a movie like this, you need to make sure you: 1. Make the story a logical extension of the content that’s already there. 2. Stay true to the characters, especially if your movie is based on a classic. 3. Do it well. The Lorax does none of these, opting instead to try and make the story into a clowny musical with comedy akin to Illumination Entertainment’s last big animated hit, Despicable Me (the minions from that movie appear in the company’s video signature, a minion makes a quick cameo in the film, and Chris Renaud also co-directed that film). Most of the songs fall flat, especially the Once-ler’s downright painful number “How Bad Can I Be?”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a clowny musical for kids, and I liked Despicable Me. But that format doesn’t work for The Lorax, because while it’s filled with imagery from the joyously fun and wondrously individual mind of Dr. Seuss, the story really isn’t a funny one. In its own way it’s a tragedy. This beautiful, enchanting forest is destroyed by the greedy Once-ler, leaving only a bleak, barren, smog-filled wasteland. The Once-ler’s greed and selfishness destroy everything he’s built, until all he has left is his own loneliness. That’s pretty heavy stuff when you consider The Lorax is a kids book. But it works because there’s a certain blatant honesty about it. Dr. Seuss dressed the message up with his unique style, but he didn’t shamelessly pander to kids, or try to fit the story into a certain mold. This movie does both, and as such The Lorax loses a piece of it’s soul.
The Lorax, and especially the Once-ler, are also reduced to shells of their literary counterparts. In the book, the Once-ler is a faceless, heartless bad guy who doesn’t care that he’s destroying the homes of these cuddly little creatures. In the movie, he’s a swell ol’ guy who promises the Lorax he’ll only cut down one truffula tree. But then his rotten relatives convince him to do it, though he’s still not quite sure about it. Kind of went the other way on that one, didn’t you movie? Oh, and this just in: the Joker only steals because his aunt goaded him into it. She needed the money to treat her scoliosis. When you meet him, he’s actually a cool dude. The true villain in this film, Mr. O’Hare, is an irritating amalgamation of Lord Farquaad from Shrek and Vector from Despicable Me. His time on screen basically consists of short jokes and over-the-top cartoon bad guy mugging.
As for the Lorax himself, he’s gone from being a wise, somewhat curmudgeonly cautioneer, to being…well, Danny DeVito. I understand why DeVito was cast. If he grows a mustache, he essentially IS the Lorax. And his portrayal does lend itself to an animated kids movie. But the Lorax didn’t necessarily need to be a clowny character. I might have made him into a fairly serious character and let the animals in the forest handle a lot of the comedy. Let the Lorax be the loving, almost fatherly creature that he is, instead of just an orange guy from New Jersey.
Still, DeVito, Ed Helms and Betty White sound like they’re having fun. Zac Efron and Taylor Swift seem to be just reading their lines, especially during their first few scenes. The Mr. O’Hare character would have been irritating either way, so I can’t necessarily blame Rob Riggle for his vocal performance.
Little kids would likely enjoy The Lorax. The animal characters, specifically the barbaloot bears, are pretty cute and provide a lot of that minion-like comedy seen in Despicable Me. There’ a lot of goofy cartoon humor that they’ll like. As for everybody else, I suspect The Lorax film would be an improved experience if you don’t know any better, i.e. you haven’t read the book, or even seen the Lorax TV special from 1972. If you discount the fact that it’s based on a Dr. Seuss book, there’s really not much that sets it apart from the average CGI cartoon movies out these days, and that’s really a shame. If filmmakers wanted to make a Lorax movie, they should have made something more faithful to the story, as opposed to using it as an excuse to make another Despicable Me with some trees.
The most disappointing thing of all? It’s Dr. Seuss’ birthday this weekend. Needless to say, he deserves better.
Images from rottentomatoes.com.
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