Thursday, March 8, 2012

Movie Review: Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax ***
Directed by: Chris Renaud.
Written by: Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul based on the book by Dr. Seuss.
Starring: Danny DeVito (The Lorax), Ed Helms (The Once-ler), Zac Efron (Ted), Taylor Swift (Audrey), Betty White (Grammy Norma), Rob Riggle (Mr. O'Hare), Jenny Slate (Ted's Mom), Nasim Pedrad Once-ler's Mom).

It’s not often that an animated kid’s movie hits the op-ed pages, with people decrying it as little more than propaganda. But perhaps in these contentious political times in America, where no one can seem to agree on anything, and the right constantly complaining about the left’s supposed demonization of the rich (sorry, “job creators”) and their “radical” environmentalism, it was probably inevitable that what most people will see as a fun, entertaining, bright kids movie, with a rhyme spewing, mustachioed creature with the voice of Danny DeVito who loves trees, some will see as another opportunity to demonize Hollywood and its leftish agenda. Give me a break. While it very clear where The Lorax’s politics lie – and yes, the movie does have them – which is for conservation and against greed, I cannot help but that think that the movie’s lesson is a valuable one to learn for kids – both because our environment should be protected, but also as future “job creators”. After all, if you make your living off of the earth’s natural resources, sooner or later, you’ll run out.

But let’s leave the politics of the movie aside – at least for the moment. Based on Dr. Seuss’ 1971 book, which has already been turned into a half hour TV special, which to pad its running time already had to expand the books material. To turn it into an 87 minute feature, even more stuff needed to be added. Bright and colorful, fast paced and entertaining, The Lorax is a fine animated film. It centers on Ted (with the voice of Zac Efron), who lives in Thneedville, a completely plastic city, which no one ever leaves, and which needs to buy its air supply from Mr. O’Hare. In order to impress an older girl named Audrey (voice of Taylor Swift), he decides to try and track down a real tree. The problem is no one knows where the real trees are – but he gets some advice from his Grandma (the suddenly everywhere Betty White) that what Ted needs to do is track down the Once-ler, who lives far outside of town. Ted goes there – through the desolate wasteland outside the Thneedville walls. The Once-ler tells him what happened to the trees – how his own greed ruined what was once a paradise, over the objections of the Lorax, who pops out of the stump of the first tree that the Once-ler cut down.

The Lorax is an entertaining, fast paced animated film. I appreciated that even though the film is computer driven animation, that they kept the basic character design of the Dr. Seuss original. This is a candy colored film, full of adorable animals (who do not talk). Danny DeVito does a great job as The Lorax, a strange little; orange creature referred to throughout the movie as either an orange meatloaf or a peanut, and the description is apt. He is a persistent little creature. The other great voice performance in the movie is by Ed Helms, as the Once-ler, who is not a bad guy, but simply gets caught up in his company and it becoming biggerer and biggererer (that’s not a typo) until its gone too far for him to turn back from.

So yes, the movie is an environmental parable, and if you’re one of those people who think they should drill for oil in the Alaskan Wildlife refuge, or think that Global Warming is a myth, or a Wall Street bank executive who thinks that short term profits are better than a sustainable business model, than perhaps you’ll see The Lorax is propaganda aimed at indoctrinating your children. But it didn’t bother me at all, because I realize that all kids movie have a message of some sort for the kids, and what matters is that the movie is entertaining. And even if The Lorax is padded perhaps too much from the original story – and even if I still kind of prefer the half hour 1970s TV version, The Lorax as a movie is still a superb entertainment. And the message – well, I agree with it.

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