Sing Song and Once-lers and Corporate Greed
This Flick Is As Shallow As A Ratty Old Thneed
Of all of the peeves I keep as pets, there are three that drive me up the wall. Cotton balls, that dopey ZZ Top song currently playing on the office Spotify and the excuse, “Relax. It’s only a kid’s movie.”
Sorry, John Q. Public. In the immortal words of Jules Winnfield, “Allow me to retort.”
Films designed for youngsters too often get a pass from the critical community. When we see sloppy writing, poor direction and hyper-caffeinated animation, we assume we’re too old to enjoy it. The film is not for us. When we like a kiddie flick, our comment is, “A children’s movie the whole family can enjoy”. We’re surprised to find something Little and Big Johnny can enjoy in equal measure. Such a novel breath of fresh air. To that, I say balderdash. Good movies are good movies, regardless of your age bracket and it doesn’t take someone with a drivers license to tell the difference. Something tells me that even Jamie’s two year old nephew would stare blankly at the latest film adaptation of The Lorax and go back to playing with his trucks. It may keep him from fussing for 85 minutes, but that’s about it.
First some background. Penned late in the career of Dr. Seuss, The Lorax is one of the darker stories in the famed writers bibliography. A cautionary tale of corporate greed and environmental responsibility, the 1971 book presents a world gone wrong and warns kids to not let it happen to them. More of a fable than anything else, the power of The Lorax is in its ability to send a powerful message with a simple story and more importantly, respect the intelligence of young readers. While director Chris Renaud (Despicable Me) is obviously a fan of the original, he looses sight of the book’s quiet power in favor of a big, noisy mess.
The saving grace of the film is the core material. The central story of a boy visiting the mysterious Once-ler to learn about the demise of the Truffula trees are the best bits of the feature. There are some genuine chuckles, the pacing is mostly spot on and you get a real sense of regret from the reclusive entrepreneur. The important elements from the book are there, from the strange payment the boy has to make for an audience with the Once-ler to the ominous “Unless” rock outside his home. The film also feels “Seuss-ian” in the animation and art design. Even the principal voices, including Zac Efron as the young Ted, Danny DeVito as the titular Lorax and Ed Helms as the ambitious One-ler, all do acceptable if unimpressive work in their respective roles.
Sadly for film goers, the good bits take up a mere fifteen minutes of screen time. The rest of the movie is exhausting, message muddling filler. The first offense is the contrast heavy Thneedville, the mecca of commercialism and plastic trees our protagonists live in. Not even Betty White can save the town scenes from devolving into eye straining visual noise. If some films make their point with a hammer, The Lorax repeatedly beats you over the brains with a candy coated bulldozer. We get it. Nature is good, greed is bad. No need to sing a horrific song about it.
The second major problem is with the young boy’s love interest, Audrey (Taylor Swift). Shoehorned in solely to push the story along, this inclusion completely ruins the whole point of the story. In the original, the unnamed boy is curious where the pretty trees went. In this version, he wants to find one to impress a girl. Boo, filmmakers. Boo.
The rest of the feature is mired in Hollywood mediocrity. It’s as if the producers were ticking off the “Kiddie Flick Checklist”. The film’s called The Lorax, so forget the fact he’s a metaphor in the book. We need the little guy to send the Once-ler down a raging river Kids like sexless romance, so let’s hammer in a love interest. Youngin’s can’t pay attention, so let’s throw in car chases, C grade Broadway show tunes and stinky jokes to keep them entertained. After all, they’re just kids and this is a kids movie. Right?
Wrong. Kids aren’t stupid. Dr. Seuss recognized this in 1937 when he wrote his first children’s book, And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street. A child’s greatest asset is their imagination and the best films of the genre are those that enhance and nurture that creativity. From the virtual sandbox of Toy Story to the magic of How To Train Your Dragon, children’s’ movies can do more than be electronic babysitters. They can inspire as they entertain. 2012’s The Lorax does none of those things, creating the same ear splitting din we’ve been handed by Hollywood since computer animation became the norm, not a novelty. Maybe I’d be kinder if I weren’t such a big fan of the good Doctor but something tells me the little nephew inside would still be snoring away.
Score – 40%