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The Lorax: A fun and flashy movie with a message

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Reel Mama: The Lorax: A fun and flashy movie with a message

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Lorax: A fun and flashy movie with a message

If Dr. Seuss were alive today, he might be startled to see his humble parable about the environment from 1971, The Lorax, has become an eye-popping 3-D musical extravaganza in 2012.  Yet I’m sure he would be pleased to find that his story has had such remarkable staying power, and resonates across generations.  Today Dr. Seuss would have been 108 by most estimates.  Not a bad birthday present to have a major Hollywood blockbuster adapted from one of your most beloved books and released for a new generation to discover and enjoy.
The latest version of The Lorax begins in the town of Thneedville, where trees no longer exist.  Air quality is pathetic, and so to feel better people suck in clean air from a bottle.  The man bottling the air is Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), the most powerful man in town.  He’s had the town walled off from the world beyond, and he monitors the residents’ every move with cameras lodged in every conceivable nook and cranny.  Ted (Zac Efron) is the adventuresome boy in love with Audrey (Taylor Swift), the sweet and dreamy girl next door.  Audrey has heard a remarkable legend about something called trees, and tells Ted she would do anything to see one.  So begins Ted’s quest to find the tree, so he can give Audrey her heart’s desire.  
But it won’t be easy.  According to Ted’s Granny Norma (Betty “Steals the Show” White), who remembers the trees, Ted must make a risky voyage beyond the town’s borders to see the Once-ler (Ed Helms).  Only he can explain why there are no more trees, and he might hold the key to helping Ted find a real one.  Ted succeeds in finding the Once-ler, who explains how, as a young man with a dream to go into business for himself, he cut down the very first tree, in spite of the warnings from a small furry little monster with a mustache, the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a magical creature who is the self-appointed guardian of the forest.

The Lorax, voiced by Danny DeVito

Dr. Seuss' book The Lorax was turned into a movie in 1972, and that film, though dated, presented the message in a much more serious way.  The Lorax in the original film is almost a doomsayer with a dire message about what will happen if you mess with Mother Nature.  His mantra is, “I speak for the trees.”  The film is bleak and sad in parts, and I think that’s how Dr. Seuss, who had a direct hand in the making of the first film, wanted it.  He really hoped children would understand the impact of destroying the planet for material gain.  He didn’t see harm in exposing kids to this grim reality, and he especially wanted to drive home the message that each of us can make a difference through an action as small as planting a tree.
The 2012 version is much flashier and splashier.  It’s fun to watch, and luckily Dr. Seuss’s original message doesn’t get lost in the busy, non-stop action and the dazzling visuals.  It reminds kids of the importance of the environment without ever coming off as preachy, at least not annoyingly so, no small feat for a movie with a message.  Visually, 3-D is a fantastic medium for the world of Dr. Seuss, and is showcased especially beautifully with the scenes in the forest where the Once-ler first meets the Lorax.
The materialism and greed is somewhat downplayed in this version, especially with the townspeople, as compared with the original film.  There’s a rollicking and funny opening number in which the community of Thneedville sings about the questionable environmental quality of their town.  One couples’ young son went swimming in their pool, and now he’s glowing phosphorescent green.  The film has a happy tone with a happy ending, and avoids somber moments almost altogether.  Taking a little more time for reflective moments would have served the film's message well.

The Lorax, in one of the film's few serious moments

The film doesn’t have the heart of a Pixar movie, and at times struggles through filler, mostly wacky chase scenes, that was added in order for the film to reach feature length (the original movie was 25 minutes). The performances are all good, but Danny DeVito as the Lorax and Betty White as Granny really stand out.  DeVito brings a fresh take to the Lorax, making him lovable, outspoken, and unflappable in his mission to save the trees.  White is memorable as the granny determined to help Ted succeed at his goal, and constantly pretends to have “senior moments” so that Zac can get out of family obligations and go visit the Once-ler.
Reel Mama’s rating: Appropriate for all ages.  Parents will be pleased to find that there is no questionable language or innuendo in this movie.  The biggest word in the movie is “photosynthesis,” and I don’t think anyone will be offended by that.  I was puzzled at first over the PG rating, but I think it’s because within the film there is an advertisement for bottled air that spoofs a beer commercial.  (A gathering is lame until a guest arrives with bottled air.  Then the party really gets started.)  The tag line is “Please breathe responsibly.”  Nevertheless, this reference is tame and will completely go over a child’s head.  I think the scenes of the trees getting cut down might be too intense for the youngest viewers.
I think Dr. Seuss might be disappointed that this animated film, even more than the live action versions of his movies, isn’t rated G.  I think it’s an unwritten rule that studios want kids’ films that are to be marketed to all audiences to receive a PG rating because G-rated films are viewed as baby stuff.  However, nobody complained about the box office performance of Toy Story 3 or Finding Nemo: both films were G rated, and everybody went to see them.


At March 3, 2012 at 7:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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, I had a good time and it will definitely resonate well with plenty of adults and just about every kid imaginable. Great review. Check out mine when you can.

At March 9, 2012 at 8:13 AM , Blogger Lauren Ivy Chiong said...

Hi Dan: Thanks for visiting Reel Mama! I enjoyed reading your review too, and agree with you about many of the salient points you bring up. Overall, DeVito's Lorax is a memorable curmudgeon, even if some of his lines -- such as "That's a woman?!" in response to the Once-ler's hulking aunt -- aren't quite in line with the spirit of the original Lorax.

I can't believe you're only 17--your reviews are impressive and I urge my readers to check them out. Stay in touch!


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