Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Lorax

Get out your Thneeds and plastic trees, we're reviewing The Lorax!
Trees before hoes, guy! 
Wow you guys, The Lorax is amazing! It's such a telling tale that NEEDS to be told even more today than when it came out. The 2D animation is wonderful, and I'm in love with all the contraptions they created for the world. It's just long enough at half an hour and it's almost word for word like the...wait. Did you mean the 2012 Lorax? The one that's selling cars? Oh. OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH. shit.

Ted(Zach Efron) is trying to impress a girl(Taylor Swift) and the only way he can do that is by finding a real tree, which is impossible in the completely plastic Theedville.  He has to venture outside in the barren wasteland to visit the Once-ler(Ed Helms), the only person who knows anything about the last remnants of trees. He regales his story to the young boy about how he met a mystical creature known as the Lorax(Danny DeVito)...

First let me say how beautiful this movie is, and how the entire world they built for it is stunningly amazing. The characters are designed and animated beautifully, the hair effects are realistic, and the textures are mind boggling. The 3D is worth it, if you're going to see it. There are even some funny bits and nice action sequences.

I love how they live in this fully plastic world(living in a plastic bubble, huh?), and that they're completely consumeristic and fine with it.  They have plastic bushes they blow up and fantastic one wheeled cars with giant sound systems that hang off the back.  It's very reminiscent of the futuristic consumer world they created for Wall-E(but not as good).  The main man in charge is a CEO who's learned how to sell bottled air, and the commercial they produce is horrifyingly realistic. It's a set-up I like.

But then they open their mouths and sing.  I tried to get behind the songs(and maybe they'll work better with small kids), but I just can't.  A few are passable, none are catchy, and they feel like they're just the  cute character requirement. These are not disney songs you'll be singing twenty years later. And anytime those three fish walk on stage, wink to the camera, and open their mouths, I want to gauge out my ears with a sewing needle. It's like Alvin and the Chipmunks mixed with the test for the emergency broadcasting system.  Except for one or two songs, they didn't really move the story along or show the emotional states of the characters. They just felt like they were tacked on for filler, much like most of this movie.

That's the main problem I had with The Lorax, it felt as empty as a plastic bottle. I understand that if you're translating from a book(or even the half hour cartoon) you're going to have to stretch and fill in here and there, but the chunks they added were just random bits of fluff. What does it add to the story that the animals hate the Once-ler, then he feeds them marshmallows, then they love him, when they're just going to hate him again after he cuts down a tree? What's the point of the Lorax effectively trying to kill the Once-ler by sending him down a river, when he's just going to try and save him 2 minutes later?  Through most of the movie, I just found myself asking, "Why? Just why?"
This wouldn't be nearly so disappointing if it weren't for them leaving out huge chunks of character development. The Once-ler and Ted both have huge jumps in character, and it makes all the other stuff feel even more unneeded when they clearly needed that time for character development. Ted, for instance, at the start is only doing this to get in a girl's pants.  Then after listening to the Once-ler a few times, he's all set to save the environment. Where's the pivotal scene where he realizes "wow, I'm kind of a materialistic dick, maybe there are more important things to worry about than the affections of one girl."?

I mean, this is a kid who, at the beginning of the movie, purchased a toy airplane solely for the purpose of crashing it in a girl's backyard just so he can speak to her, so already he's pretty materialistic. They could have included some scene where he already gets the girl, but then he has to choose to spurn her to save the environment, or some sort of better emotional conflict. Here, he's doing things because a girl tells him to, then because a random old stranger tells him to, and he just looks like a weak character.

The Once-ler is worse. They set up about an hour of him being a fairly good guy with some worthless filler to cash in on the cuteness of the woodland creatures, then in the span of 3 minutes and one forgettable song he goes from mildly short-sighted to completely money-grubbing evil. There's no gradual fall as there was in the original cartoon, which made it more telling and more tragic. There, he just keeps taking a little bit more and a little bit more until her realizes it's too late. That's a slippery slope,  something we can all relate to.  That cartoon was speaking to us, warning us the dangers of gradually not caring.  But here he just seems to be instantly indoctrinated into an evil businessman.

Off-topic rant: this is why The Grinch will always be the pivotal Dr. Seuss movie, not because it had the best adaptable story, but because they knew what to expand on: character. They looked into what turned the Grinch into the Grinch, expanded on it, and asked the deeper question of why he would be driven to do this. They found and told the story that was most relatable to us. Until they can better humanize Dr. Seuss's characters, the movies will continue to be pretty fluff. End rant.

This is the Lorax Lite. It's not nearly as extreme as the original book or cartoon.  They take the easy route focusing on the evil businessmen and their corporate greed rather than pointing a finger at the audience and saying "It's YOUR fault and only YOU can fix it!"  Example: The climax comes when the people of Thneedville have to stand up to the evil executive O'Hare, because he doesn't want them to plant ONE seed. But no one goes, "Y'know if this seed is going to grow and nature is going to prosper, you're going to have to give up some of your materialistic luxuries, the manufacturing of which is killing nature."  No one talks about the hard truth of what they're doing to nature, they just blame it on big evil business and slap a bow on the problem. And hey, how many Lorax ads are you seeing to be better to the environment, recycle, don't litter and think green? No? Just selling cars and movie tickets? Ok then.

What's really annoying is that the Lorax, to which the movie is named after, is barely in a third of it. It mostly centers on Ted's story, effectively ending the Lorax's part near the end of the second act.  Obviously they named it for marketing reasons, but a better name might have been The Legend of the Lorax or The Lorax and Thneedville or even A Boy cares about environmentalism to get in a girl's panties.

THE GOOD: beautiful, good use of 3D, a few funny bits and some good action sequences, nice designs.

THE BAD: no character development, a lot of filler, songs are annoying, message is lost, Lorax is barely in there.

THE VERDICT: Not great. Only see this if you've nothing else to watch and you want a halfway decent 3D experience. Or if you have kids and Arrietty isn't playing, or if you can't get your hands on the original cartoon.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Horton Hears a Who, Madagascar, Wall-E

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: When Ted first visits the Once-ler, he goes through a series of crazy contraptions of booting him, flipping him, until he finally gets around to telling the story. Sure these things are all kind of cool and a bit funny, but why? What did this serve the story at all, other than another use of the 3D you paid an extra 5 dollars for?  Oh, and when he finally gives Ted the last seed, the only hope of the future, does he use all his crazy contraptions for its best care then? Maybe that's why he had them installed just so he could make sure...oh no, he just chucks it out the window.

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