The Lorax (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Lorax (2012)

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I'm at a loss with this adaptation of what is the greatest introduction to environmentalism to a young mind.  The Lorax may not have the same whimsical tone of the originals, but Dr. Seuss' tale has found a good home in animation.  This is coming after years of horrible live action attempts to spin the world of Seuss into something palatable in the "real world" and we've got the adaptation of Horton Hears A Who and now The Lorax to point at as mild successes.

But there's still something that nags at me.  This adaptation of The Lorax is not as dark as it's '70s television counterpart.  It still insists on showing the corporate-driven lifestyle as something that is positive and zippy.  Sure, the effects on the environment from living a consequence free industrial lifestyle are eventually shown, but to the target audience the happy times are centered in those opening scenes where people sing in unison along a row of houses that would fit right in with any nuclear family.

So the war of cognitive dissonance rages on.  Both the naturalistic ways of the past and the technological ways of the present are displayed as vibrant positives.  The in-between, that time when we would just embrace the desolation, is where things are really wrong.  So is this a film that is muddled in it's own message, or willingly self-contradictory to reach the widest audience?  In truth, neither, just an environmentally friendly story reproduced in a broad fashion when a narrowed approach would do.  The Lorax is the prime example of how a film with less than an hour run time would have succeeded perfectly.For the most part, the film follows the story of Seuss' book with a few deviations.  Instead of thrusting us into an industrial ravaged wasteland right off the bat we get a bright and charming introduction to the world of commerce through Ted's (Zac Effron) eyes.  He's in love with the girl next door (Taylor Swift) and since she wants nothing else but to see a real tree again decides to venture out beyond the city limits to find the last sign of a living tree.  In town the local commerce mogul who sells fresh air to the population (Rob Riggle) has a vested interest in making sure a self-sustaining product of fresh air is not introduced into the city.  Ted makes it to the outer world where he meets the Once-ler (Ed Helms) who tells Ted of how he brought the world to the brink of ecological ruin despite the warnings of The Lorax (Danny DeVito.)

As far as additions go, the Riggle-voiced mogul is not a bad one.  His henchmen provide visuals to a number of fun visual gags where they try to compensate for his height problem while propping him up as a symbol of authority.  The remaining deviations come from the love plot framing device, courtesy of Ted, and the large number of musical sequences that litter The Lorax's run-time.

The songs are total non-starters.  They feature a number of bland voices echoing whatever the plot happens to be peddling at the time (commerce, nature) without a single unifying voice to make things palatable.  The musical numbers come in every ten minutes or so, rhythmic enough to make me think that the producers didn't feel as though The Lorax had enough going for it and needed to pan out the run-time unnecessarily.

The rest of the film passes minimum critical muster.  Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie, but just barely.  The reproduction of Seuss' original story is faithful enough that none of the power is lost, even if it's in slightly commercialized trappings.  But even so it felt like it was part of the point.The interesting part comes from the addition of the Once-ler's back-story.  He used to be a hippie who roamed the countryside looking for a place to settle down with nature.  It just so happened that he found a spot with a material perfect for making a designer product everyone just has to have.  The perils of commerce versus conservation are dealt with very nicely here in parallel to the straightforward mogul of modern times.  Meaning well is very little if complete desolation in the long-term result, and it doesn't matter if you are a grassroots hippie who happens to stumble into a fortune or an opportunistic shark.  Ultimately, and with today's needs, it's balancing the necessity of a technological society with environmental conservation.  I like that as a message to give to kids, teaching them that not one extreme or the other is preferable, and it's done in an entertaining fashion.

Most of the entertainment value goes to Danny DeVito.  The rest of the cast is good enough but doesn't really add too much to the film.  For DeVito, I enjoyed the colorful animation and the faithful reproduction, but simply having him in the cast adds an additional element of frustration that wouldn't otherwise be present.

DeVito and the bright animation are enough to recommend the film, but just barely.  Considering how hard it's been to hit the minimum this year I'll take it.

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The Lorax (2012)

Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda.
Screenplay written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul.
Starring Danny DeVito, Zac Effron, and Taylor Swift.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. For me the movie is in two different worlds. The first one is the wonderful/cute/fun story of the Lorax and the Once-Ler which had the makings for a really fun animated film. DeVito was great and I think Ed Helms was under appreciated for his role. Like you said the animation was pretty and the action zany. Then you have the other world with the boy, his crush and his crazy Mt. Dew-ified Granny (because we everything has to have Betty White in it) that did nothing but waste time. I didn’t care for any of these characters, the villain to me was bland and reminded me of a dull imitation of Cohaagen from Total Recall. When you put the two worlds together you get, as you said, a movie that is just good enough but it could have been more.

    • It’s appropriate you say the film is in two different worlds considering the lengths it goes to show how the Once-lers efforts literally created two different ecosystems. I definitely agree with you that the split is unnecessary and is part of what led to such a confused message. The ’50s bright and vibrant world of love crush boy and Betty White is not bad at all, so it makes the eventual environmental flashback (well executed though it is) feel a little perfunctory since it’s hanging off of a standard love plot. But I did like the villain, he’s a bit cardboard but the way his henchmen silently compensate for his, uh, “difficulties” is a lot of fun.

  2. Hey just because I don’t know where to put this: could someone do Moonrise Kingdom?

    Also I really wish you guys had a general discussion board or something somewhere.

  3. While the movie is funnier than the book, the drawback of this modernized version is that it loses the timeless quality of the story on the page. Still, I had a good time and it will definitely resonate well with plenty of adults and just about every kid imaginable. Great review Andrew.

    • Thanks for the thoughts Dan. Part of the problem I had with the film is that it tried so hard to be funny, what with the involvement of Betty White, and almost everything involving the modern day storyline.

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