Looking at WNY’s visual art, theater, music, and dance scenes.
Mar 2, 2012
08:35 AMTalk about Arts
Movie Review: The Lorax
Films opening this weekend:
Dr. Seuss' The Lorax - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Hollywood, Quaker Regals; Flix
Project X - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; McKinley Mall Dipson; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Hollywood Regals; Flix - REVIEW
I loved The Land Before Time when I was a kid. I remember seeing the dinosaur film in the theater, getting the plastic hand puppets from Pizza Hut, and eventually acquiring a VHS of the film through some other restaurant's promotion. Back then, if you weren't Disney you didn't even attempt to populate an animated film with song—at least until it came time to cash-in on sequels.
When Pixar showed family films with story could succeed, not even the Mouse House needed cute critters breaking out into song anymore. It appeared the era might come to a close to usher in a new one with intelligent screenplays and legitimately funny character interactions replacing romantic ballads padding runtime. Sadly, however, Illumination Entertainment couldn't resist spicing up their adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax with a few uninspired ditties. The source material rhymed, after all. And rhyme is merely a gateway to tripe like "How Bad Can I Be?"
Well, Mr. Once-ler (Ed Helms), you can be pretty bad. In a film that keeps its environmentalism in check as much as possible before the final song and dance number titled "Let It Grow," I really could have gotten behind the message and story if not for the musical trainwrecks slicing through its humorously broad heroes and villains. I'll guess screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul chose to include this track because their take on Seuss' tale is much less dark than the source. And although Ted's (Zac Efron) plight to win the heart of Audrey (Taylor Swift) with a real tree inside their plastic world was created to add another good vs. evil plotline besides the industry destroying nature subtext, the tone remains cheery. Money-grubbing, air-manufacturer Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle) attempts to be evil but his small stature and contrasting gruffness only make him a parody rather than true-to-form villain.
Efron gives Ted—the boy who served as our entry point into the book—an affable, underdog to get behind while his Mom (Jenny Slate) and Grammy (Betty White) round out the comedy with over-the-top familial antics. And while denizens of Thneedville feel the need to break into song so we can take a tour of its ingenious blow-up foliage, multiple climates, and polluting vehicles, Ted and Audrey don't join in. This is a very telling thing when your main characters avoid the gimmick you lean so heavily on otherwise. Even the Lorax (Danny Devito) escapes falling prey to cliché as he stays true to the poems of Seuss and surprisingly does his best to make us forgot the baggage of crass bullishness we generally equate to the actor's performances.
There simply isn't a need for the clunky lyrics when everything else works so well. Ted and Audrey's courting is cute despite her looking twice his age; O'Hare is a fun antagonist due to a goofy haircut, Riggle's crazed enthusiasm, and a pair of massive bodyguards recalling The Triplets of Belleville's henchmen; Once-ler is perfectly positioned as orator to tell the original book's story and allow for Ted's new world to live alongside it; and the Lorax "speaks for the trees" and hammers home the theme to care for our world without over-stepping his welcome. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how little screen time this tiny orange guy has.
The animation screams Seuss and directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda do their best to make the 3D relevant whenever possible. Thneedville's plasticity is a lot of fun and the sumptuous fields of Truffula trees shine in flashback as Once-ler prances around with big dreams and a weak conscience. His is the cautionary tale inspiring young Ted and soon becomes the heart of the film. And if not for the music derailing the story with almost every note sung, that would have been enough.
The Lorax 6/10 | ★ ★ ½
 "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax", a 3D-CG adventure from the creators of "Despicable Me" and the imagination of Dr. Seuss, features the voice talents of DANNY DEVITO as the gruff but lovable Lorax. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment © 2012 Universal Pictures
 The idealistic young Ted (ZAC EFRON) shows a rare seedling to the girl of his dreams, Audrey (TAYLOR SWIFT), in "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax", a 3D-CG adventure from the creators of "Despicable Me" and the imagination of Dr. Seuss. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment © 2012 Universal Pictures