Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax | Film review
Given the strong connections many of us at TOCK have with The Lorax from our childhoods, we decided to send two editors and two kids to evaluate the new film adaptation.
Web Behrens: I saw the animated TV special as a kid, at some point. I don’t remember how old I was but it freaked. Me. Out. I was devastated that anyone would cut down all those truffula trees, pollute the water and effectively banish the wildlife. Dr. Seuss helped usher my young brain into maturity by depicting not a fun cartoon fantasy but a parable about a very dire reality. Lesson learned.
So I approached this new movie with some serious trepidation. I know other adults are nervous about it, too. I mean, look what happened to How the Grinch Stole Christmas when that perfect-as-is short story was stretched into a feature-length film: We got a Jim Carrey monstrosity marketed to the hilt—entirely antithetical to the original moral. The fact that a right-on group of fourth-graders from Massachusetts busted Universal Studios for promoting The Lorax online without any reference to environmental concerns only deepened our concerns. (Happy ending: With their teacher’s help, the kids started an online petition and Universal listened.)
Given all this, the fact that I didn’t hate The Lorax is victory enough. I even liked parts of it. What’s your first memory of The Lorax, Judy? How did your experience measure up to the story from your youth?
Judy Sutton Taylor: I don’t have as vivid a memory as you do—just that it made me sad. I had the same concerns about the new movie, though: that the environmental issues at the heart of the story, which seem even more timely now (though maybe that’s because I’m not seven years old), would get buried. But I liked it, too, moreso because my nine-year-old twins seemed to get the message that we all need to make sacrifices to be Earth-friendly. They both like the book, but I think the movie helped drive things home for them.
It didn’t hurt that they’re fans of Zac Efron and Taylor Swift, who voice two of the main characters, either. What were your feelings about the casting?
WB: The voice actors were fine. I mean, who doesn’t love Betty White? She sounded just like Betty White, though—I’d rather hear a performer do something a bit more original. In the title role, Danny DeVito did a great job. But the songs were lackluster, completely void of Seussian verve. (The producers should've hired Stephen Sondheim, or perhaps Marc Hairspray Shaiman.) And why cast Swift but not let her sing? Strange.
Also strange, though not necessarily bad, was the entirely new plot. I knew it had to happen: The filmmakers—codirectors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, and screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul—had to invent reams of narrative to fill an 86-minute running time. (Compare that to the original book, which is 45 pages mostly filled with illustrations, or the original cartoon adaptation, just 25 minutes.) Now we get a tale about Ted—an affectionate nod to Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss—a boy who lives in Thneedville, a plasticized city. His motivation to find a real tree leads into the familiar story.
The movie delivers some fun action sequences, particularly when the Lorax and the animals dump the sleeping Once-ler and his bed into a river, then have to save him when the plan goes awry; and later, when Ted, his grandma and his kinda-sorta girlfriend Audrey must rescue the last remaining truffula seed from the comical new villain. Meanwhile, although there were some condemnations of consumerism at the expense of the planet’s health, some of the urgency of the original tale felt drained away. What did you and the kids think?
JST: I thought the movie was definitely drawn out beyond what was necessary. Like many of the Seuss books that get turned into feature-length flicks, this one would have worked better as a short film. But that won’t bring in the audiences and big bucks, will it? My kids are used to these treatments of Seuss and I think they were thoroughly entertained for 90 or so minutes. I agree hearing Swift sing would’ve been better than the middling (and unnecessary) songs created for the film.
That said, I don’t think they thought about the movie, or its message, much at all once we left the theater. It definitely doesn’t convey its message as strongly as the book does. Maybe film studios think that won’t bring in audiences and big bucks, either. I disagree.
The Lorax opens in theaters today, March 2 (and Dr. Seuss’s 108th birthday).