Posted in Movies

A Review of The Lorax – Slaughtering Seuss

The Lorax, posterTITLE: 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
RATED: PG
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.

86949_oriWhen 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 Once-ler, The Lorax movieWay to go, movie. You sucked the soul out of a Dr. Seuss story. Shang Tsung would be proud.

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.

The Lorax movie, image 3Still, 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.

RATING: 3/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com. 

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Posted in Movies

A Review of The Muppets – Nostalgia, Sentiment, and Chris Cooper Rapping

The-Muppets-2011-Movie-Final-PosterTITLE: The Muppets
STARRING: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black
PUPPETEERS: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Peter Linz, David Goelz, Bill Barretta
DIRECTOR: James Bobin
STUDIO: Walt Disney Pictures
RUN TIME: 120 min
RELEASED:
November 23, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I find it very fitting that a new Toy Story short was attached to The Muppets. Toy Story 3 was such a huge hit last year with it’s central theme about growing up that made many a grown man cry. But it also had a $200 million budget, cutting edge computer animation and an A-list cast. Nothing against the Toy Story films, but The Muppets proves you don’t need all those bells and whistles to make a movie as heartfelt, tremendously entertaining, and at times genuinely moving as that. This film did it with less than half that budget and a bunch of felt puppets.

The first Muppet movie in over a decade takes place quite a few years after Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang have gone their separate ways. During a vacation to Hollywood, Walter (a new puppet character) and Gary (Jason Segel), two brothers and lifelong Muppet fanatics, discover that an oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) is preparing to bulldoze the building that The Muppet Show was performed in. Together with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), they set out to reunite the Muppets and raise enough money to buy the theater back.

83361_oriIf there was ever any doubt that the Muppets still deserve their place of reverence in popular culture, this film shatters it. It hits just about every note it needs to hit to make it the perfect comeback movie for the franchise. There’s a significant nostalgia presence in the film, mostly for The Muppet Show and 1979′s The Muppet Movie. We also see the return of three classic Muppet songs, which should really warm the heart of old school Muppet fans like yours truly. Does that make me biased? Maybe, maybe not. I’d like to think it works well in the context of these characters being portrayed as entertainers making a comeback. Hopefully kids being exposed to the material for the first time find it as great as we did back in the day.

One of the great things about this move is that it’s essentially art imitating life. The Muppets have been around here and there, but since the property was purchased by The Walt Disney Company in 2004, nothing of great significance has been done with it. We got a couple of TV movies, some appearances in music videos and a some online content. But none of it seemed to generate enough interest in the franchise to really give it momentum again. As a result, the Muppets largely fell out of the limelight for awhile. It’s that touch of reality that gives this movie a bit more kick. When a network executive (Rashida Jones) tells Kermit and a room full of Muppets that they’re not famous anymore, your inner child squirms as you wonder if that’s actually true. As the characters are trying to raise the money, you’re rooting for them to succeed, just as many of us are rooting for this movie to be a success so we can have the Muppets back again. Had this movie not worked it would have been devastating for the franchise.

The Muppets, cast photoThankfully, it works as well as any of us could have hoped for. By touching on issues like family, love, friendship and finding your place in the world, while integrating some classic Muppet-style humor and music, this film becomes a piece of work I’d like to think Jim Henson himself would have been proud of. Frank Oz, who famously helped develop many of the Muppet characters, and puppeteered and voiced Miss Piggy and Fozzy Bear, allegedly opted not to contribute to the film because of how some of the characters were portrayed. As a fan, I’m not sure what his mindset could have been at the time. Kermit and the others are as great as they’ve always been, and now they’re being shown to a new generation of fans.

The world can be a pretty dark, scary place nowadays, and that’s exactly why the Muppets needed to resurface like this. Lord knows, this place could use a few more smiles these days. And who’s more qualified to make us smile as we try and find our own rainbow connection?

RATING: 9.5/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com.