Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

Geiselling Up the Wrong Tree
What the Dr. Ordered (What the Patient Thneeded)

The Dr. Seuss library was getting a bad shake from the movies when they started.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas (actually an expansion—and declination—of the excellent Chuck Jones Christmas special) was a live-action mess directed by Ron Howard.  Then, the studio actually raised the ire of the estate (in the form of Geisel's widow, Audrey) with the live-action version of The Cat in the Hat.  Then, someone had the brilliant idea of making them computer cartoons, starting with Horton Hears a Who (which did the book justice and stood out on its own as quite a good flick, being the closest representation of Seussian architecture, or lack thereof).  Now, comes Suess' cautionary (and controversial) ecology tale The Lorax in the same format "from the creators of Despicable Me," Chris Renaud and his animation supervisor on that film, Kyle Balda.

And it's not bad.  Despicable Me had a weird way of looking at the world all its own, and the creators have a tendency to take the "edge" off Seuss, (although preserving his architectural view of "no right angles") while still making a film that is lively, and with a comic timing that depends on the "ol' switcheroo" for laughs, not unlike a perpetual motion "Roadrunner" cartoon.

The expansion is interesting.  Ted (Geissel's Christian name and voiced by Zac Efron) lives in a polluted plastic community of Thneedeville, run by a corporate overlord named O'Hare (Rob Riggle), who's a "zillionaire" from producing bottled air—a necessity since all the real trees have been cut done, owing to (and this where the book comes in) The Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) who used them all to make his fortune producing and selling Thneede's, which appear to be a scarf/sweater/hat contraption, which became a sensation. 

His initial tree-toppling leads to the appearance of The Lorax (cackled by Danny DeVito) who "speaks for the trees"—sarcastically, I might add—to try to set the young entrepreneur onto a more green-path when it comes to business (like that ever works without tax-breaks, cute woodsy animals be damned).

Ted, meanwhile, wants to grow a single, solitary tree for the woman of his dreams, Audrey (played by the woman of my nightmares, Taylor Swift, and despite my prejudices, she's quite good!) and the only way he can do that is to get by O'Hare, his burly security guards and escape Thneedville to find the Once-ler and let Nature take its course, Lorax or no Lorax.

It's not a bad translation of Seuss, story-wise.  But one wishes that the visuals could be a little less plasticene looking, given the ecology story, which leads one to wonder if such a subject should even be rendered with pixels (and makes one cynical enough to note how much the End Title tune is auto-tuned to a semi-quaver of its unnatural life).  Such thoughts should not be creeping into one's thoughts when one is watching a movie about how wonderful Nature's way is, and nature has nothing to do with it, no matter how "green" the movie declares itself to be.

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax is a Matinee.

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