Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Lorax Is The Logical Successor To FernGully!

The Good: Great message, Decent 3-D Effects, Moments of character, Voice acting
The Bad: Very predictable plot, Some moments toned down for children
The Basics: In an artificial, manufactured future, a boy goes on a quest to bring back trees in order to impress a girl in The Lorax!

It occurs to me as I contemplate the latest cinematic endeavor based upon the works of Dr. Seuss, The Lorax, that I had only seen one other recent Dr. Seuss adaptation. I was one of the few critics not overly impressed by Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas (reviewed here!) and I did not even bother checking out Dr. Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat with Mike Meyers as a result. So, I was either overdue for some cinematic Dr. Seuss or I was just intrigued enough by the promotions for The Lorax to risk disappointment when I went to the screening.

Fortunately, The Lorax is a lot of fun. More than just being fun, The Lorax has a strong, smart environmental message tailored toward educating and alarming the younger and recently disaffected generations. Perhaps the last time such an overt effort has been made to wake young people up to pending environmental catastrophes was FernGully: The Last Rainforest (reviewed here!). The Lorax succeeds at educating without ever feeling like it is browbeating, probably because the film is so consistently entertaining. As usual in circumstances like these, it has been decades since I read the book The Lorax, so this is a very pure review of the film, without any comparison to the children’s book that spawned it.

In Thneedville, everything is artificial, manufactured to serve the needs of Mr. O’Hare’s business interests. There, the twelve year-old Ted is growing up with a huge crush on Audrey. When Audrey tells Ted that all she truly wants is to see a real, live – not artificial – tree, Ted leaps at the opportunity to win over her heart. This takes Ted, with the help of his Grandma Norma, on a quest outside the walls of Thneedville. Beyond the city, the world is pretty much a stripped, deserted wasteland. Out beyond the boundaries, Ted finds the hermit Once-ler.

The Once-ler tells Ted his story, the story of how he began the deforesting of the world and his encounter with the Lorax. The Lorax, a small creature that advises strongly against cutting down any trees, and the Once-ler get into a conflict. The Lorax wants desperately to save the forests and the creatures living there, while the Once-ler is caught up in producing his Thneed, a device with 100 uses. Eager to win the heart of Audrey, Ted implores the Once-ler to help him find a tree!

The Lorax is much less about the title character and much more about the Once-ler and Ted, though the Lorax is the highlight of the film. The story is very simple and because one goes into the movie knowing a fair amount about the message, it is very hard to complain about the fact that it pretty much goes exactly where one might expect it to. That said, there are far worse things than when a story about saving the world actually pounds that message home and illustrates the potential consequences of failing to protect the environment. The Lorax promotes that message well and delivers a few snappy, fun songs with it to boot.

The Lorax also works well on the character front. Ted and the Once-ler are characterized as foils, just as the Once-ler and the Lorax are opposites. Ted has a wonderful childhood crush on Audrey and the depth of his affection leads him on a quest that helps him love the world (the environment). In stark contrast, the Once-ler is motivated mostly by greed, a self-love. Ignorant to the consequences, the Once-ler is enamored with his own cleverness in creating the Thneed, and he allows his ambition to get the better of him. The dichotomy may be obvious, but it is potent; Ted’s love is positive and flows from him, the Once-ler’s love is concerned more with self-gratification than anything else. And there are worse reasons to want to save the environment than love or romance!

So, the appearance of the Lorax challenges the Once-ler’s sense of ambition and, despite the logic of the argument, fails to sway the Once-ler. The Once-ler is caught in the moment, unable to deal with hypothetical futures. He needs something concrete and the Lorax comes spouting possibilities (albeit high probabilities). In that way, writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (and Dr. Seuss) also make a potent argument for the usefulness of the bearer of bad news. The Lorax is absolutely right in many of his warnings, but he does not present his argument in a way that the Once-ler can actually hear his point. That introduces the intriguing idea that, had the Lorax (and environmentalists in the real world) simply changed their message to suit the recipient, all of the destruction might have been prevented.

The Lorax is presented in beautiful 3-D much the way Despicable Me (reviewed here!) was. The characters are cute and stylized with big eyes and flawless skin. The fur on the Lorax is beautifully rendered on the big screen making the spectacle a surprisingly high selling point for such a substantial film.

As an animated movie, The Lorax features a voice cast, in this case one of the best I have seen and heard in a while. The Lorax might contain the only performance by Rob Riggle (Mr. O’Hare in the film) that I could stand! Zac Efron, Taylor Swift and Betty White dominate the voice talents of the Ted-portion of the movie. Taylor Swift actually impressed me with how her voice is lower in The Lorax than it is on many of her recordings. The Once-ler and Lorax are vocally created by Ed Helms and Danny DeVito, two people who seem exceptionally comfortable in the realm of voiceover work. All of the vocal talents perform well.

This weekend, for a change, audiences have a very clear-cut decision to make when going to the theaters. There is the comparatively highbrow, socially-conscious, solidly entertaining film (The Lorax) and the disappointingly raucous, vacuous, vomit-inducing flick depicting terrible people behaving badly (Project X). I, for one, hope viewers make the smart decision and help Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax bury the other film. If it does, perhaps a bleak, artificial world like the one depicted in The Lorax shall not come to pass.

For other animated films, please check out my reviews of:
The Secret World Of Arietty
Wonder Woman


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized list of the hundreds of movies I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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  1. 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 though, the visuals are beautiful and are a total delight for both the parents and kids. Good review.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading!