Family, 86 Minutes, 2012
My 10 year daughter loved this movie. I didn’t. Like other attempts to enbiggen Dr. Suess to feature-lengths it’s too self-indulgent with its own ideas and loses the soul of the source material. “The Lorax” was a simple story with some very basic themes – most of which seem to have been lost in this translation.
One fundamental theme is that the world isn’t as good now as it was before. It’s drab and dirty and full of smog and toxic waste… but the city we see here, plastic tho’ it may be, is bright, clear, sunny and full of happy, singing people. It looks like an absolutely fabulous place to live! There is a silly tack-on plot involving a guy (that inexplicably looks exactly like Edna ‘E’ Mode from “The Incredibles”) that sells fresh air (since we’re told that the crystal clear air that all the smiling people are happily breathing is so awful). Since we see absolutely no impact to this (people don’t seem to need tanks and spend lots of their time outside in the sun) it doesn’t affect the overwhelmingly positive impression of the town.
Our young hero’s motivations are muddied by a stilted love story. Yes, he does everything for a girl (which basically means that if the hottie had wanted a new car and not a tree we’d have no movie). The semi-anonymous Once-ler from the book is remade into a sympathetic anti-hero with mommy-issues who mostly fumbles into eradicating an entire ecosystem. The Lorax is laughably ineffective and never actually does much at all beyond some summer-camp-level pranks. He never even (not even once) makes his famous speech.
Most annoyingly the fundamental dynamic of the plot is ignored. In the book the Once-ler is given multiple chances to mend his ways and refuses. We see the impact of his industry on the air, and the earth and the water – and each time the Lorax warns him and sends another troop of sad animals off to uncertain ends while the Once-ler ignores him and ramps up his actions. This entire sequence – the main, driving force of the entire story, is squashed into a single few-minute scene that lacks almost all impact. We never even learn the names of the animals as they’re used exclusively as comic relief.
The movie really isn’t bad. It’s funny enough and well-acted enough but it’s really not “The Lorax”. This story is a classic for a reason, it’s a soft introduction to environmentalism and the effects of one’s actions on the world around them. It’s simple: we are the Once-ler. Ted Wiggens is our hope for the future and the Lorax is the unheard voice of nature. All of that is muddled and lost and replaced with physical comedy and chase scenes because, yet again, hollywood thinks that it can do better than classic. It’s an amusing enough diversion but for the real story read the book or watch Friz Freleng’s 1972 classic [IMDB]. It’s only 25 minutes long and so very much better.