March 8, 2012

The Lorax Lacks Heart

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The Lorax is one of the greatest children’s stories ever told. Like all of Dr. Seuss’ tales, it is elaborate and incredibly imaginative. The tale’s morals also resonate with Seuss’ adult readers long after they experienced those lessons as children. Indeed, Dr. Seuss is one of the few storybook writers who will remain relevant forever.

The animated film, directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, premiered on Dr. Seuss’ would-be one hundred and eighth birthday. With a star-studded cast — including Ed Helms, Danny Devito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift and Betty White — voicing the production, a powerfully relevant message and charming music, The Lorax is nothing short of delightful.

In the light of the upcoming presidential elections and the disappointing lack of noteworthy animated films in 2011, The Lorax is exceptionally timely. Lacking all subtlety, the film scathingly criticizes greed, capitalism and environmental exploitation. It serves as a warning to us all, just like it did in 1971, when the original children’s story was published. The movie does justice to the original. Watching the Once-ler chop down the very last Truffula tree is tremendously upsetting. It is hard not to be affected by the betrayal that The Lorax feels and the hopelessness of the now homeless furry creatures of Seuss’s not-so-fictional world.

The major issue I had with the film, however, is its subtle lack of loyalty to Dr. Seuss’s style. Although the message is the same, and elements such as the Truffula trees and the Lorax character are exact, it lacks the weirdness that for which Dr. Seuss is famed. The scriptwriters, Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, made no attempt to rhyme any of the dialogue. And while the music is fun, it seems to be a somewhat lame way of avoiding a musical script. In addition, the adorable and endearing animals that the Lorax looks after, including the Brown Bar-ba-loots and Swomee-swans, are merely presented as enchanted versions of bears and ducks. The best part about Dr. Seuss’s stories are his wacky creatures, made up words, and totally unique worlds. The movie would have been far more memorable had it maintained that enchanting vibe that other Dr. Seuss movies, such as Horton Hears a Who and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, have applied in the past.

Nevertheless, the film does a great job of conveying Dr. Seuss’ originally intended message: to protect nature from the greed of modern capitalism. The most effective scene to this point is the one in which Ed Helms’ character, the Once-ler, transforms from an average struggling nobody into an obsessively rich business magnate in the song

“How Bad Can I Be?” The animation in this scene is great. It is reminiscent of Aladdin’s “Friend Like Me.” We see through music how the Once-ler takes his small invention of the thneed — a hilariously useless but popular commodity — and is so consumed by it that he betrays everything else he believes in for success. The song lyrics make the scene memorable.

For example, the Once-ler sings, “the PR people are lying / the lawyers are denying.” He also ironically exclaims with a cackling laugh, “a portion of proceeds go to charity!” These are serious issues of 2012 that the Once-ler introduces. They are poignant and specific and seem to take some arguments directly from the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s not a song you can easily forget.

Ed Helms is undoubtedly the show stealer. His vibrant and unique speaking voice makes the Once-ler the most dynamic character in the movie, and his singing voice is impressive but not overbearing. I only hope that Helms will appear in more animated films in the future.

Efron’s character, on the other hand, is a little flat, though it’s no fault of his. He is the formulaic pubescent boy on an adventure, but he lacks depth and uniqueness. The same goes for Swift and White’s characters. Although likable, they are predictable and boring. It is obvious that these are not creations of Seuss’, but ingredients for a blockbuster cartoon for kids to enjoy.

Additionally, as soon as the first song began and I realized this was a musical, I was anticipating a duet — or at least an appearance — by Efron and Swift on the soundtrack. Neither of them sang — not even in the finale — and that was a major disappointment for the teenage girl in me.

Even so, the concluding number, “Let it Grow,” is adorable and catchy. I found myself singing it for days afterward. Despite the movie’s Hollywood-esque copouts, The Lorax is too important and too much fun to miss out on this spring.

Original Author: Lucy Goss