Film review: Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Film work details
Title: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
Produced by: Illumination Entertainment, Universal Pictures
Directed by: Kyle Balda and Chris Renauld
Screenplay written by: Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
Adapted from the book by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
Starring: (the voices of) Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Betty White, Taylor Swift, others
This animated film follows the adventures of 12-year old Ted Wiggens, a resident of Thneedville, who goes in search of a real tree in order to impress a girl he likes. Along the way he meets the Once-ler, a recluse who tells Ted the truth of why trees no longer exist, and of a magical creature called the Lorax who tried to prevent this catastrophe.
Genre: Children’s animation, musical
(Age) rating: PG for mild language, mildly mature intimated scenes
Reviewer rating: 1 1/2 Popcorns out of a possible 5
12-year old Ted lives in Thneedville, a walled urban community where everything in life costs, even fresh air. Everything here is made of artificial materials and even the trees are only simulations. Ted has a crush on a girl named Audrey and when he finds out Audrey’s one wish is to see a real tree he goes against community prohibitions and escapes the barrier walls in search of a living tree. What Ted doesn’t know is that his escape is noticed by Mayor O’Hare, who has made his fortune by exploiting the environment and by selling fresh air, which is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity in Thneedville.
Ted discovers that the world outside of Theedville is a badlands. But he does run into the Once-ler, a recluse who tells him what happened to the landscape and the animals that once lived and thrived in the once fertile valley. It is more than just a story, for it is the Once-ler’s revelation of how his own greed and stupidity had changed history. Ted learns of how the Once-ler, when he was young, had invented Theend, a marvelous product that could be used for many versatile uses. However, the manufacture of Theend came at a price –the Truffula trees which provided the raw material for this product.
In those days the Once-ler encountered an odd little being, the Lorax. The Lorax described himself in the context that he "speaks for the trees", and he went on to reprimand the Once-ler for using the Truffulas, claiming it would only lead to disaster. In an effort to compromise, the Once-ler at first took only the mature foliage of the Truffulas for his industry. But his demanding family got involved and once they did all parts of the Truffulas were sacrificed. In a short time the production of Theend became a huge success. But it wasn’t long before all the trees were chopped down. With no more Truffulas the manufacturing of Theend stopped and the Once-ler’s family abandoned him. The Once-ler was left alone, in the desolated wasteland that was once a beautiful paradise.
On finishing his story, the Once-ler gives Ted the last Truffula seed in existence. Ted returns to Thneedville, but now he has more on his mind than merely impressing Audrey. He understands that the fate of the earth and human life depends on the restoration of the trees, which alone can return the environment and supply of clean air to normal. So Ted sets out to plant the precious seed and is helped in this effort by Audrey and his grandmother.
But the avaricious Mayor O’Hare, whose spies have kept an eye on Ted’s activities, isn’t about to surrender his exclusive control over the fresh air supply.
This modern retelling of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax had some potential. The computer-tech animation is often very colorful, which appeals to young children. The artists also showed a familiarity with the visual whimsies that so often populated Dr. Seuss’s books. And the character of the Lorax himself is contrastingly gruffy and almost personable in a Wilford Brimley-caricatured kind of way. The comedic lines are often suitably double-edged, lending some mature humor to the dialog.
Unfortunately, this movie suffers from a lot of mistakes, and most of these from choices consciously chosen by the film makers.
Firstly, the overall storyline is lame. Now while I admit the writers must have been hard put to build an entire film-length tale around what began as a very short story, what is here has all the hallmarks of a banal modern Disney animation: a young boy who is neither very masculine or particularly intelligent, a young girl who is braver and morally more ambitious than the boy, a comical senior who likes to act hip (the Grandmother), the side-kick animals (in this case, several side-kick animals) and music that is electronic pop at its most uninspired.
The storyline is also quite corrupted from the original story. Whereas Dr. Seuss’s tale was a laudable parable about the consequences of insatiable consumerism, this movie has twisted that message into a sermon demonizing all human use of trees. As callously and self-righteously as the industrial world has often preyed on the earth’s natural environments, extremism in the hands of the opposing platform is still extremism. If young audiences bought this story hook, line and sinker they’d be convinced that even beavers and aboriginal peoples are doing wrong by cutting timber for the simple purposes of building homes to live in.
Whatever your feelings about Seuss’s pro-environmental sentiments, at least he wasn’t an extremist. Let’s face it: the man made this story famous off sales in an original form that was manufactured from pages made of tree pulp. Personally, I think paper should be manufactured from a much more environment-friendly and easily renewable source, such as hemp. It is unfortunate that the original editions of the The Lorax were printed on tree-pulp paper, nevertheless it was, and became popular printed as such. What is excruciatingly clear about this adaptation is that for all of Hollywood's moralizing the industry today doesn’t show act with any more true conscientiousness toward the environment than the publishing industry did back in 1971. If it did they wouldn’t be selling tickets made of cardboard or selling those very tickets in exchange for dollar bills made of paper.
This movie is problematic in other ways, too. Take for example the Once-ler’s family. They are each and every one portrayed as greedy, stupid hillbilly types, except for the Once-ler himself, and of them all he's the only one learn a lesson about raping the landscape.This is pure ethnicism, but it is also standard Hollywood tradition which isn't going to change any time soon. Still, I'm saddened that these high-minded Hollywooders have either conveniently forgotten or just remained happily ignorant of the fact the U.S. timber exploitation has historically been carried out by land pillagers in the Pacific and Northern regions of this nation and not by Southerners.
Then there is the portrayal of the Mayor of Thneedville. Ok, he doesn’t speak with a Southern twang, but he’s a jerk whose claim on fresh air represents runaway consumerism and commercialism at its most immoral. I don't like runaway consumerism or commercialism, and who should? But in this movie the jokes and gags revolving around the Mayor's stature come across as deliberate symbolism for his ethical shortcomings. And where symbolism -however controversial or against the grain it is- can work in discerning art forms for adults, it is out of place in a movie aimed predominately at kids.
I won’t even try to list all the tie-in merchandising that has gone into promoting this movie. It is enough to observe that when it comes to portraying consumerism as an evil, the film makers and distributors have allowed themselves one helluva convenient exemption. It is like the proverbial pastor who preaches against adultery during the Sunday evening sermon and wakes up on Monday morning with the organ player’s wife. We can only hope that movie watchers won't be as easily embarrassed into turning a blind eye on hypocrisy.
Despite the colorful animation and sometimes cute characters, Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax disappointingly falls short on entertainment value for teen-to-adult viewers. It is blatantly political, hypocritical and often biased in a non-comedic way The only adults I can imagine even being amused for more than ten minutes with this film are those fans of social exploitation pieces like Reefer Madness and The Burning Hell.. they'd also have to be stoned at the time or at least intoxicated on a heaping helping of iHop pancakes.
For children, who are ofttimes impressionable, I would recommend they be allowed to watch only under the guidance of discerning, rational adults.
Reviewer rating – One and a half popcorns
Official film website http://www.theloraxmovie.com
More by this Author
A trivia quiz to test your knowledge of popular horror movies
The 25 Scariest Movie Scenes of All Time (a viewer's list)
A selection of non-alcoholic Irish-themed beverages, great for St. Patrick's Day or other celebrations.