The Lorax (2012)

directors Chris Reynaud, Kyle Balda
viewed: 03/17/2012 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

The world of the new digitally animated film The Lorax is just a few shades below dayglo.   It’s not the first film to turn a Dr. Seuss book into a CGi film, produced by Christopher Meledandri, originally of 20th Century Fox and now of Illumination Entertainment.  We saw a similar type of adaptation in Horton Hears a Who! (2008) which offered a similar level of success/failure.  The Lorax‘s commercial success, which I suppose that we helped add to by seeing it theatrically, will beget further adaptations, no doubt.

The kids enjoyed it.  It’s really targeted to that audience, with the typical types of appeal to not nauseate the parental units accompanying them.  And at that, it’s a passable affair.  It wasn’t to my tastes.  I actually found it pretty lame.

The Lorax as a book was always a favorite of mine (and perhaps many others).  The tale of ecology, written at the dawn of the 1970’s when the first big wave of concern and activism on such topics came to the fore.  In that sense, the story has only remained relevant and perhaps more so every year further since its writing.  So, in that sense, it’s quite a apt choice of material.

But in taking any Dr. Seuss book and turning it into a feature film, you’ve got a lot of fluff to add.  And for The Lorax, that meant giving the Once-ler, the faceless defiler of paradise a backstory…and a face.  And redemption.  And empathy.  And the nameless boy, the “you” of the story, he gets a girlfriend.  And the story gets a villain, more villainous than the well-intentioned but deluded Once-ler, the mayor of Thneedville, the plasticine haven of fakeness where all people live buying fresh air from his monopoly.  This didn’t have to be a bad thing necessarily (though it clearly departs the beauty and simplicity of the book’s story and message.)  But it is a bad thing and it waters down the message and the story and a lot of stuff.

The animation is beautiful.  Digital animation, especially from the top companies, never ceases to get more rich and detailed.  The bursting color palette, the details of the truffula tufts, everything, is sharp and fresh and clean.

But the best parts of the film are the little moments, little asides with the humming fish or the brown barbaloots.  The story, while not heavy or clunky per se, is strikingly uncreative.  What is handled with visual wit and charm is a content of dull and blah.

What’s odd and somewhat troubling is the happy ending that the film extends from the story.  The book ends with a bleak message of possible hope, the final truffula seed entrusted to the boy (the “you”, the “us” of the book), saying that only in caring (and acting) will hope truly be there.  Of course, in the movie, this redemption is brought about, with the Lorax himself coming back to the Once-ler and telling him “you did good.”  It’s shifting the criticism to the people in power who keep change from happening, the corporate power that monetizes the present and doesn’t want change (which is arguably a potent message as well).  But it does muddy the water, especially as Lorax branding is sold and presumably un-eco-friendly marketing materials are drummed up for the film.

There is also a notable shift away from the language of Dr. Seuss.  The film only hints at the poeticism and flourishes of the words, staying within a more typical narrative structure.

For kids, it’s more of a good time at the movies.  Less attached to the meta orientations that cruise through my brain while watching a film.  Felix did note that his favorite sequence was a brief Mission Impossible reference.  Now that the kids start to see and understand these cultural winks and asides, it does take them from the most ground-level of watching films, with the jokes that are meant to pass over the heads of the young to stimulate the adults in the audience.  Not that I thought it particularly clever.  But there are many levels on which to spend your time in the film.

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