March 4, 2012

Pass on The Lorax.

I was not thrilled when I found out they were making a movie of my favorite Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax.

Nonetheless, I was curious.

If you recall, the story is about a fantastical forest of Truffula trees—pinks, yellows, and oranges popping off the page—and all sorts of curious animals that inhabit this forest, such as Bar-ba-loots, Humming Fish, and Swomee-Swans.

As the story goes, a strange green creature named the Once-ler comes upon the truffula trees. And he sees an opportunity to get rich. A truffula tree’s tufts are “softer than silk and have the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” Such exquisite material excites the Once-ler, so he chops down his first tree and knits what he calls a thneed (thing+need?).

And then the Lorax pops out of the stump. The Lorax is a tiny, sage-like creature who speaks for the trees. But nothing, not even the Lorax, can stop the Once-ler from cutting down the Truffula forest and building factories that spew toxic waste. The message of the book is simple, really: unbridled industrialism fueled by greed mucks up—and eventually destroys—the natural world. The Lorax is not a rosy tale, by any means.

In the movie, however, the simple message of the book is obscured by a stream of sub-plots that are neither in the book nor in the 1972 made for TV movie, which is actually pretty cute (and short).

The Lorax 2012 takes place in a town called Thneedville, a Truman Show-esque walled in community where hidden cameras monitor the citizens. Only plastic trees exist in Thneedville. But the thing is, everyone seems happy. In fact, the movie opens with the whole town singing a song about how great the town is. Everyone is just fine without trees, except for Audrey (Taylor Swift). She is the only one that is interested in seeing a fabled truffula tree. She even has a mural of them in her backyard. Then there’s Ted (Zac Efron). Ted has a crush on Audrey and, above all, wants to make her wish of seeing a truffula tree come true. But this, as the viewer discovers, is a quest fraught with peril.

Thneedville is controlled by a greedy corporation that sells bottled air called O’Hare (am I missing a bad pun here?). The CEO of O’Hare is a two-foot tall Asian man (I’m not kidding). I cringe to think that Mr. O’Hare, with his mafia boss voice, might be a symbol for everything negative we associate with China. Why else would they make him Asian? Maybe I’m overthinking it. I do have an active imagination. As do the writers of this script, apparently.

The bottled air seems more like a luxury item than a necessity, but everyone in Thneedville uses bottled air, ostensibly because there are no trees that can make clean air. This is why Mr. O’Hare is threatened by Ted’s quest. Trees are competition for his business.

Yeah, I need someone to draw me a plot diagram.

Ted’s preteen-hormone-fueled mission to gratify Audrey propels most of the action in the movie. He takes mad physical risks to make it out of Thneedville –which no one has ever done apparently– to find the rumored Once-ler and to hear about the truffula trees.

By the way, it’s Ted’s Grammy (Betty White) who goads him into seeking out the Once-ler. I’d like to know what kind of grandmother encourages her grandchild to pursue such a life threatening goal. Moreover, does she know who this Once-ler is? What if he’s a pedophile?

Ted rides his moped fast and crazy out of town. As I said, Thneedville is walled in, but this twelve-year-old makes it out in no time and with relative ease. Once he’s outside the walls, the landscape is as dreary as the opening pages of the book. Except in the film, Ted has to dodge mechanical swishing axes strategically placed on the side of the road, to escape from, um, being decapitated. This was a major facepalm moment for me.

I don’t remember the Lorax being an adrenaline-fueled extravaganza. Moreover, as a child, I don’t recall ever needing such a rush in my entertainment. Do kids today really need over-the-top action sequences injected so profusely into movies and TV shows? Apparently Hollywood thinks so. Even the Scooby Doo series and the Super Friends cartoons I used to watch after school weren’t this jam packed with excitement. The Lorax movie suffers from overdoing; overdoing the singing, dancing, screaming… overdoing pretty much everything.

And in the midst of all the chaos, Dr. Seuss’s poetic language is but an afterthought.

It is not only the constant stimulation that is unnerving about this film, but also the utter lack of mystery. In the book, the Once-ler is a creature whose face is never shown. But in the film, the Once-ler is a regular human chap, who is actually quite likeable. And in the end, his atrocities are, ultimately, forgivable. Ironically, it is the Once-ler, and not the Lorax, who comes across as sage-like.

Whereas in the book, the Once-ler is really an outcast, suffering the rest of his days in self-imposed solitary confinement. The end of the book gives us only a glimmer of hope. And that hope is entirely based on the last word of the Lorax, “UNLESS.”

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

However, in the film, a happy ending is all but assured. In fact, it’s already unfolding. The truffula trees are growing back. What a relief! We can relax now. Nothing more to do here, kids!

I must say, though, the animated truffula trees are a visual delight. They were the best part of my movie experience.

Unfortunately, though, the Lorax (Danny DeVito), comes off as a bumbling buffoon. Yes, he’s cute and somewhat goofy, and no doubt angry (he speaks for the trees!) but he is also a wisdom teacher. The Lorax is no less than a guru, but this movie makes him the butt of a joke.

And to me, that was the ultimate travesty. 

I read The Lorax as a child in the 1970s. In fact, the book and I are just about the same age. Its mystery and message have stayed with me for decades. The movie has no such pull. I’m not even sure what its message is. What’s more, the movie’s marketing ploy is a trainwreck. Today the Lorax is pimping pancakes, SUVs, inkjet printers, and yes, even disposable diapers. Ugh.

I say, take a pass on The Lorax 2012. Instead, dust off your copy of The Lorax 1971, and indulge in a real work of art.

Read 16 Comments and Reply

Read 16 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

S.V. Pillay  |  Contribution: 2,820