- Movie Rating -

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (2012)

| September 9, 2012 | 0 Comments

One of the problems with the recent attempts to adapt Dr. Seuss’ books into movies is Hollywood’s tendency to intrude upon his work with cute, snappy dialogue and slapstick comedy, and expand on appropriately thin material with gobs of hip-cool dialogue and needless subplots.  Anyone familiar with Dr. Seuss’ books knows that this is completely the wrong approach.  A good example is “The Lorax”, the 1971 book which was about the depletion of the environment through industrial carelessness.  The book ends with a somber, but hopeful, message that the environment could be saved by one caring individual.  The movie ends with a car chase.  You can see the problem here.

The original story involved a little boy who arrived, under “smog-smuggered sky”, to see a hermit called The Once-ler, who lived in sad looking structure atop his store.  For a small fee, the guilt-ridden Once-ler laid out the story of how the land got so filthy.  Years before, he had arrived in this land when it was brimming with bountiful color and life and how he decimated that life by cutting down all the Truffala Trees in order to make a product called The Thneed.  Despite dire warnings from the forest guardian called The Lorax, the Once-ler continued his profligate ways until he turned the once beautiful landscape into a desolate wasteland.

The book never gave the boy a name, an origin, or a reason for coming to see The Once-ler (he was meant to represent the reader).  Not so in the movie.  The boy is called Ted Wiggins and he lives in a completely artificial town of Thneedville, which is completely devoid of anything natural and surrounded by a large steel wall.  His reason for seeking out The Once-ler is that he wants to impress a girl by bringing her a Truffala Tree, which are extinct.  Exiting the town on his motorbike, he goes to find The Once-ler, who spells out his story.

Much of the movie flashes back in time to tell how The Once-ler (who was never seen in the book, but is often seen here) came to destroy this beautiful forest.  The Lorax, who “speaks for the trees” wants the Once-ler to stop his wasteful means and move on, but The Once-ler sees profit in logging and won’t stop.  That’s good enough, but why did we need a subplot in which Ted tries to stop a greedy industrialist called Mr. O’Hare (who has made millions selling bottles of fresh air) from planting trees?   Worse, why did we need a happy ending?  Why did the book’s hopeful ending get drawn out into a roller-coaster car chase around Thneedville followed by a lame musical number?

Even more puzzling is why the screenwriters decided to throw away Dr. Seuss’ dialogue.  The magic of Seuss’ stories lay in his dances of words and a distinctive rhyming structure.  The movie has none of this.  The characters speak in the kinds of smart-alecky phrases that every animated feature these days seems to incorporate.  That means quips, insults, clever asides and buzz words. The title is painfully misleading.

The basic problem is that the filmmakers didn’t have the courage to follow the original work. Their movie represents a fear that telling such a deep and sorrowful story will offend viewers who might ask for their money back. Their movie is blown up, wrapped up and packaged as silly musical comedy with an environmental message buried in the corner. This isn’t the worst movie of the year, but it is certainly the most weak-kneed.

Will kids enjoy it?  As a diversion for a Saturday afternoon, probably, but it would do an injustice to introduce this story to them through this movie. The only positive is that it will probably exit their brains almost as soon as it is over.  Revisit the book and you’ll that there is a reason that Dr. Suess’ story has remained in our minds for 40 years.  If Dr. Seuss had written his book as it plays out in this movie, it would have long been lost into the dustbins of history, which where this wrong-headed movie is very likely headed.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Animated, Kids