The Lorax 3D Review
We sometimes like to think that environmental concerns are something that only came to the fore in the last couple of decades, but of course this is a gross disservice to our forebears, many of whom could see the impending disaster and did their best to warn us. The Lorax was one such tale, although the message was more of big business steam rolling over the little guys, it uses the destruction of the environment as its cornerstone.
Hollywood has never been slow to adopt the whimsy that Dr Seuss created for the big screen, with four of his forty-six books adapted to date, along with countless TV adaptions and short animations. His literary work is even more widely celebrated across the world, with his books translated into over one hundred languages and America’s National Reading Day is held on his birthday, such is the respect for his books. The writing was always more than matched by the illustrations – Seuss’s original talent, and it is this that has always attracted filmmakers to the stories.
Written in 1971, The Lorax is one of Seuss’s later works and had already been turned into a TV special as early as 1972. Within his children’s books, Seuss had two main series, his “simplified writing”, designed for younger children – of which “The Cat in the Hat” is probably the best known and also more complex stories with broader narrative and a much greater vocabulary for older and more confident readers. The Lorax belongs to the more complex series of books, aimed at those with a nine – ten year reading age, thus being perfect for Hollywood producers…
The original story is much simpler and to a certain extent, shorter than the movie. This is understandable, as at just thirty or so illustrated pages, it would be a stretch to make the basic plot into a full length animated feature. Instead, the filmmakers have taken the basic story premise and main characters and fleshed these out into a story of their own. Although they have retained much of the stylistic imagery of the original books, very little of Seuss’s own words survive, and this is a great shame.
Setting aside the book for a while, the basic plot of the movie is thus: A young boy named Ted (After Seuss’s real name - Theodor Seuss Geisel) sets out to impress his neighbour Audrey (Seuss’s second wife) by bringing her a real tree. They both live in Thneedville, a totally synthetic town, where everything is man-made and the air is so polluted the residents buy bottled air in the same way townies buy bottled water today. Audrey is portrayed as somewhat older than Ted and he is desperate to impress her, or at least get to know her a little more. He kicks his football into her yard and flies his radio control plane onto the roof of her house just to make excuses to visit her. On one such trip, he sees she has painted pictures of trees on her home and he asks her about them. She tells him of a time when plants were real and did not come with batteries and remote controls to change their seasons and how she wants to touch and smell one.
Ted takes this wish home and discusses it with his mother and grandmother. While Mum dismisses it as a fanciful notion, Gran can remember a time when the trees still grew and tells Ted how to start his quest. Enter the baddies in the shape of Aloysius O'Hare, the mayor of Thneedville and head of the "O'Hare Air" company that supplies fresh air to Thneedville residents. He knows that trees produce fresh air and that this might undermine his hold on the lucrative supply of bottled air. He sets out to stop Ted, but who can stand in the path of puppy love?
Ted heads off to break out of the town in which the residents are effectively imprisoned to visit the mysterious “Once-ler” – the being his Grandmother says can tell him about the trees. He lives in a ramshackle house outside the town on an old road called “The Street of the Lifted Lorax.” It is here that Ted persuades the Once-ler to recount the tale of how all the trees came to be chopped down in order to make Thneeds – a pointless thing that became the must have accessory.
The Once-ler tells how he met the Lorax – the guardian of the trees when the forest was still pristine and initially promised not to cut down the trees, only to harvest the tufts he required to make his thneeds. The problems arose when he asked his family to help him make more of the product and they quickly discovered it was much less effort to cut down the trees than to carefully pluck the parts they wanted. Therefore, despite the Lorax’s warnings, the forest was destroyed, the animals scattered and the town became a plastic oasis in a shattered and broken land. There remains just one seed from trees left and the Once-ler gives it to Ted on the promise that he will plant it and nurture it. Ted races back to Audrey and his Grandmother and between them, they set out to restore the balance of nature.
It is a shame the film makers decided to use so little of Seuss’s original prose. The language has been updated to appeal to a modern audience – I get that, but I still feel that more could have been done to keep more of the original text. The voice performers – including Zac Efron as Ted, Taylor Swift as Audrey and Danny De Vito as the Lorax all do a fine job, but it does feel out of character with the feel of the book. The actual animation although very impressive, does not fully capture the quintessential look either. The actual characters – where they existed in the first place, look quite similar, but the environment has been brightened up and brought far too up to date. The town looks more like Lazytown from the Icelandic TV show and the use of futuristic vehicles reminded me more of the spaceship on Wall-E. The introduction of new characters was unavoidable to help pad out the film, but again, these do not sit comfortably in the Seuss mould. Much of the intensive joy of reading that one gains from the book is simply thrown out to make the story more dynamic and easier on the brain for our modern, short attention span offspring.
Ignoring the original story, the film does stand quite well on its own. The animation and 3D environment is simply stunning, the story fast paced and the music well composed and integrated into the movie. The film did pretty well on release, despite the reservations of the critics, many of which felt like I do that too much of the original book and its moral values were discarded along the way. The important point is if the film will still appeal to its target market and the answer is yes, it does. The illustration and animation is bright and colourful and will hold the attention of the little ones, as will the humour, which is typically slapstick with enough subtlety to keep older children engaged as well. Ikea parents will love it for the slightly off beat story and quirkiness and of course the environmentalists will applaud its sustainability and anti-corporation messages.
The film has more longevity than Brave as a recent comparison. There is more to engage and entertain and the presentation is less one dimensional. There is also more than a passing chance that it might introduce a new generation to the Seuss books, at least in the UK, as they are still regular school reading material in many areas of the US. This is no Disney classic and may date quite rapidly in a way that Toy Story or Monsters Inc. avoided. The inclusion of a few big names popular in the tweenager demographic no doubt helped sales to a great extent as well. A cautious recommendation then, provided you are not expecting a straight telling of the original book.
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