CINEMA: News Weekly
A pleasant but forgettable taste
, May 12, 2012
Dr Seuss’ The Lorax (rated PG)
(reviewed by Symeon Thompson)
Dr Seuss’ The Lorax is an all-singing, all-dancing, 3D animated extravaganza of excess, slight substance and some genuinely hilarity. Singing, dancing fishes anyone?
It lacks the whimsy, and atmosphere of surreal dread, that characterised the Doctor’s work, replacing it with over-the-top Hollywoodisms and a dash of smirking irony — as well as lip-service to the imperative for ACTION, in a general feel-good sense.
Despite this, it’s a fun film that can’t be taken too seriously, and is more memorable for the little things, such as the singing, dancing fishes, than its story or message.
Thneed-Ville is a completely artificial self-contained town, where even the trees are electric, blow-up monstrosities. The town is dominated by the pint-size millionaire Mr Aloysius O’Hare (voiced by Rob Riggle), who’s managed to sell fresh air to the populace and is accompanied, like all villains, by two gigantic guards.
Ted Wiggins (voiced by Zac Efron) is a bright young lad who lives with his mother (voiced by Jenny Slate) and grandmother (voiced by Betty White, once again playing a crazy-cool granny).
Ted’s keen on Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift), an “older woman”, meaning she’s in high school, who loves the idea of trees and has declared she’ll probably marry whoever can bring her one. This inspires Ted, and he goes seeking the Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms), the man who knows what happened to the trees. The villainous O’Hare is also inspired, but only in order to stop them because trees make fresh air for free which would ruin his business.
Ted makes his way through the apocalyptic landscape outside the town to the Once-ler’s home where he learns the Truth. The Once-ler was once a bright young man off to seek his fortune, electric guitar in hand. On reaching the appropriately psychedelic valley, replete with singing, dancing fishes and all other manner of entertaining critters, he began to harvest the tufts of the Truffula trees to make Thneeds — absolutely useless, multi-purpose things that “everybody needs”.
This brings forth the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) who speaks for the trees, and all manner of shenanigans result, all with appropriate pop-cultural rip-off musical numbers.
The colours are bright and vibrant, and the animation soars with cheerful, good-humoured abandon. The 3D is a waste of time, adding little more to the film than a higher ticket price, and seems merely done because everyone else is doing it.
The soundtrack is appropriately clever in a pop-saccharine way with cheery, singable numbers and hat-tips to all manner of pop and rock icons. All this does is emphasise that it is not Dr Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel), but a hyper-commercial Hollywoodisation of his work.
The highlights of the film, much like those of 2010’s Despicable Me, which boasts the same creators, are in the asides and small details that have little to do with the story. In Despicable Me there were the bumbling Minions; in The Lorax there are the cute furry little bears, and a big fat bear and the other animals, including, of course, the singing, dancing fishes. They’re not really necessary to the story, but they are more memorable than it.
A much better fit for Dr Seuss would be the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, and his style provides a fitting comparison (all credit to Steven Greydanus of decentfilms.com for the suggestion). Miyazaki is famous for such films as Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away and, most recently, The Secret World of Arrietty (adapted from Mary Norton’s novel, The Borrowers), which are wonderfully rich and subtly nuanced movies made in the traditional hand-painted cel-animation style, drawing on an extensive history of Western and Eastern imagery.
They are eminently suitable for children and are quite capable of provoking awe and wonder in adults — and are rollickingly good fun.
As for the message of Dr Seuss’ The Lorax, well, it’s been drowned in so much sugary, commercial sludge that it can barely breathe. While it’s nice that the movie-makers care about the environment and consumerism, they offer nothing of any substance to address the issue, and it’s doubtful if they intended to.
For all the hyperventilating of certain American capitalists, this movie is far too tame, and of far too middling aesthetic quality to worry about such things.
This is no Pixar masterwork, no Wall-E or Up, offering a searingly beautiful and constantly arresting, genuinely loving insight into the foibles of the human condition. Those are movies that inspire one to real action, based on deeper understanding.
This is a fairy-floss film, one that’s just long enough to leave you with a pleasant, forgettable taste in your mouth, but not long enough to leave you writhing with stomach ache. But you are left with the image of the singing, dancing fishes.