Monday April 30th 2012
From the arrogant mind of Chris Melandandri comes The Lorax, a $70 million blockbuster adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s 1971 eco-parable of the same name. With its tale of corporate greed and societal complacency, the story seems ripe for a 21st Century re-telling. But for all its good intentions, there’s something deeply unsettling about this bubblegum pop approach to environmentalism.
The film tells the story of Ted, a twelve-year-old boy living in the entirely synthetic town of Thneedville. He badly wants to cop off with Audrey, a significantly older girl who lives across the street, and so decides to go in search of a real tree — the one thing that Audrey wants more than anything else in the world. Absent from the source material, Audrey is further evidence of Hollywood’s belief that a story without a love interest simply isn’t worth telling, presumably because anything less than a wholesome heterosexual relationship couldn’t possibly justify a spirit of adventure, or a daring mission, or saving the Earth from the clutches of corporate gluttony.
Check out this video of Taylor Swift, who plays Audrey, desperately trying to muster some enthusiasm for the character (and look out for the bit at 0:18 where they very abruptly cut after she says “I loved the character–“, presumably to get rid of the ‘s’ on the end of the sentence that might imply she was talking about the characters in general rather than just Audrey):
Out in the real world, Ted soon stumbles upon the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a reclusive individual whose mercenary business tactics have resulted in the complete depletion of the forest outside Thneedville, much to the annoyance of the titular Lorax, a diminutive orange eco-warrior who ‘speaks for the trees’. Working together, they strive to save the forrest, defeat the corrupt mayor of Thneedville and make sense of a plot saddled with two distinct time periods, dozens of unnecessary characters and a ‘Groovy Grandma’ who wouldn’t have made it past the first script revision of Jack and Jill.
The stock complaint is that everything here was done to far greater effect four years ago in Wall-E, and that’s true, but personally I can’t see any harm in covering old ground where teaching kids about environmental awareness is concerned. And if it upsets a few bile-spewing right-wing commentators in the process, then more power to Chris Melandandri. There are even a few moments in The Lorax with genuine satirical bite, not least a rap number by Ed Helms (stay with me) about the dangers of ethical compromise.
It’s a shame, then, that the movie’s style so often runs diametrically counter to its message. The level of unnecessary embellishment in The Lorax, presumably added to make the whole thing more kid-friendly, is disorientating. It’s not enough for the Once-ler to travel far and wide in search of his fortune; he has to do so while ‘rocking out’ on an electric guitar (a Lor-axe if you will). The fish who inhabit the forrest can’t just walk around on their fins; they have to do a Mission: Impossible spoof as well. Almost every sequence in the movie, whether it’s a high-octane action chase or quiet expositional scene, has more in common with Sonic the Hedgehog than anything from Dr. Seuss’s oeuvre.
And the songs. The fucking songs. Imagine taking half a dozen Action Man jingles and stretching each one to three minutes. You’re somewhere close.
During his lifetime, Theodor ‘Dr’ Seuss Geisel was notoriously cautious about licensing his characters and stories to the Hollywood studio system, resulting in five decades during which his work remained largely unsullied by external influence. Since his death in 1991, we’ve had these: