Growing up with an Italian mother meant that I never had Dr. Seuss read to me as a child. I read bits and pieces of his work in my teens and have always been familiar with How the Grinch Stole Christmas thanks to my being raised primarily by the television, but it wasnt until I became a father that I finally delved deep into the world of Dr. Seuss.
Thanks to a wonderful hippiesque friend of mine who understands my sensibilities, I was introduced to The Lorax in its made for TV half hour format right around the same time my oldest daughter was born. I was immediately hooked. I believe that was the first Dr. Seuss book I purchased for my daughter, and its the one that still gets requested the most at bedtime.
When we first saw the trailer for the film version, the three of us were elated coming home to enthusiastically show Mrs. Blahg the trailer online, we were all giddy with anticipation. Danny DeVito as The Lorax?? Perfect! I know many of you out there dont like it when stories from your childhood get remade for a modern audience but for someone who didnt grow up with these stories, I was simply happy to see it reach a potentially greater audience, because its the message in the book that is most important right?
Friday night after work, we gathered up the family and headed out to our local cinema and took in the new Dr. Seuss The Lorax in glorious Tree-D (their marketing campaign left much to be desired). I wont say it was a bad movie but I cant say its a great one either.
There is an art to turning smallish childrens stories into full length feature films a few have succeeded wonderfully Horton Hears a Who for instance. Shockingly great film. Where the Wild Things Are it was knocked by a number of people, but I was amazed at what Dave Eggers managed to wrangle out of a 15 sentence book the most honest and true look at childhood from the inside out. The Lorax does its best on paper, Im sure what they were going for seemed like it would work and Im sure there was a way to do it but it simply missed a few beats.
Spoiler warning: If you arent familiar with The Lorax in any of its forms, dont read the rest of this review. I give away major plot points.
The original story is that a young boy goes to visit a man, who you only see as a pair of green gloves, who tells him the story of The Lorax and how his greed destroyed not only his own fortunes but the local environment as well. The television version added some catchy tunes, but kept the art and the story itself virtually untouched. The film version adds a who different element to the tale, then drops the ball in the execution of the pacing of how that destruction occurs in favor of some action sequence and a ridiculous villain, while making the Once-ler (the original villain) sympathetic.
Ted (Zac Efron) is a twelve year old boy who lives in Thneedville, a completely plastic and artificial town whos air quality is so poor they must use bottled air brought to you by the mega-rich Mr. OHare, who looks an awful lot like the male version of The Incredibles Edna Mode and should have had a mustache to twirl in his pure evilness. Ted has a crush on Audrey (Taylor Swift), who only wishes to see a real tree as opposed to the inflatable and illuminated trees of Thneedville. I must point out here a wonderful addition Ted is Dr. Seuss real name, and Audrey his second wife. Thats just plain cute.
Fortunately for Ted, his grandmother (Betty White) is old enough to remember trees and knows how Ted can find out how to get a tree just go out to the edge of town and find the Once-ler (Ed Helms). Unfortunately, leaving the town is forbidden by Mr. OHare, and Ted finds himself in a bit of trouble as he comes and goes illegally in order to learn the story of The Lorax.
I dont mind that we see the Once-ler as a young man, in fact, I liked that. I dont like that they gave him a guitar and a few crappy songs for him to sing simply because Ed Helms made up a funny song in The Hangover though. I liked The Lorax being a shrill and nagging spokesman for the trees and the environment in both the book and the television special but in this, hes much more reasonable and befriending of the Once-ler. The Once-ler is even made to be more of a pawn of his greedy relatives as opposed to the instigator of the greed that undermines everything. But the one aspect that sticks in my craw the most is the fact that the book outlines each of the environmental catastrophes that befall the land and the consequences of each the air is bad, so the Swanny Swans leave, the water is befouled, so the Humming Fish cant hum and they leave, and the Barbaloots in their Barbaloot suits must leave when there are no more Truffula fruit to eat. The movie waits until the last tree is felled before everyone, The Lorax included, leaves.
The beats were missed in favor of a song where the Once-ler cant understand why making gobs of cash is bad. The pacing is off because of the need to cram in this side story of the rich guy not wanting trees to be planted because they produce air for free. The movie became more of an anti-capitalist message as opposed to a pro-environment message. Yes, I know the original story is also against industry, but the underlying message was clear you cant get rich and STAY rich without being a proper steward of the environment. The message was there but it was buried under some pointless action sequences and bad music.
Like I said not a bad movie it was entertaining and the animation was incredible but not a great movie. My kids however, loved it. And if they are happy, and get a message I approve of on top of it, I cant be too upset. Now I can probably even interest them in some old episodes of Taxi and that is a great thing.
I speak for the trees,
Cornelius J. Blahg