Guest Reviews with Paper Alchemist: The Lorax, 2012

‘Mouse-Fans,’ she said, waving forty-eight knees,

‘I’m the 100%-Recycled-Paper Alchemist. I speak for the trees.

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no voice,

and I’m telling you, friends, that if it’s your choice

to ignore the Earth’s peril and the tree-hugger’s cry,

you won’t like my review. In that case, goodbye.

Today we’ll be taking a look at The Lorax,

a movie that fills my whole cephalothorax

with sorrow and anguish, dismay and despair.

It could have been great, but they just didn’t care.’

 

Sigh.

I wish I wasn’t so sad about this.

I approached this review raring to have a big cathartic bitch sesh. As Pixar put it in Ratatouille, snark is fun to write, and to read. But I don’t think I have it in me today. I thought I was just hangsty – a close relative of hangry – so I went for a snack…

[Comm] Unshavedmouse alt

‘Hey, have you seen Nit anywhere?’

tsqhuntsman.me

‘Um… no.’ *urp*

… but it didn’t help.

Thing is, despite my horrifying face and painful venom, my heart is proportionately huge in relation to my body size (just don’t ask where it is). And I have a terrible habit of letting things get too close to it. That’s the trouble with having an exoskeleton: you’re tougher outside than in. So if you really don’t want to be sad today, go back and check out my Snow Queen review. Or the time – ha ha – the time I made Mouse review Space Chimps with the nipple-headed alien. Because misery is takin’ the wheel.

 

spider-crying

‘Hello, darkness, my old friend…’

Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that stories, language and the natural world are some of the strongest threads from which my soul is woven.

It’s for these reasons that I was so fascinated by The Lorax as a spiderling.

I don’t know if I liked it, per se. It’s a dark little book, and I was an anxious child. But I did respect The Lorax. I knew it was important. Behind the colourful drawings and playful rhymes lay a deep and bitter truth about the wild places I loved so much: they were dying.

It wasn’t a secret. Messages about saving the environment were everywhere in the nineties, as guilty previous generations scrambled to implant care for the planet in our psyches in the hope that we might grow up to fix the damage they created. Blinky Bill might have been a cute show about a cheeky koala, but he still ran from loggers in the opening sequence. Even my beloved Bollygum, that dazzling quest through Australia’s unique landscapes, ended on a bittersweet note about deforestation, with the sacred healing tree vanished and the city looming where it once stood.

So although The Lorax scared me in a way that no other picture book did, I still had my parents read it to me until I knew it by heart.

Parts of the poem faded away in my memory, but the message didn’t. All my life, I’ve tried to be that someone like you who cares a whole awful lot. I’ve been donating to the Parks and Wildlife Fund for years, even though I can’t really afford to. I’ve tried to support ecotourism, buy ethical, reduce my food waste and petrol consumption, boycott palm oil, bait and trap introduced predators, and understand where we fit among all the things that make up our poor beautiful planet. I once played Lorax myself to the local community. The council and some city bigwigs wanted to build a rubbish tip in an abandoned granite quarry. The problem? The quarry was abutted on two sides by state park forest. I knew the trails, so I led groups of farmers, business owners and hippies on bushwalks to show them what we stood to lose.

marsbarmt

Her beauty and her terror, that wide brown land for me.

Every time I walk past that quarry, with its clear green water and its falcons soaring overhead, I am both grateful and saddened. I’m glad we saved the state park, and everything that lives in it. At the same time, I see the city on the horizon and I know that all over the world, far more important fights are being lost every day. Nothing I do will ever be enough. But, damn it, I can’t just watch the world fall apart. I’m heartened by the small triumphs I read about, or observe in my own back yard. And every day, I hold out the hope that the world is changing for the better; that the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.

In short, Dr Seuss’ Lorax haunts me.

Ted ‘Dr Seuss’ Geisel was inspired to write it on holiday in Africa with his family in 1970. He wrote it out of love for the natural places both abroad and at home, out of frustration with what he saw as mindless consumerism, out of – as he put it – ‘being angry… I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might.’ It was his favourite of his works. That passion, carefully woven into a compelling story, is what makes the book so powerful. It’s as relevant today as when it was first published. It makes the notion of an ecosystem and the problems of environmental carelessness easily intelligible to the child reader. Its brief glimmer of hope at the end is presented as a goal that must be desperately fought for. There is no hero in Dr Seuss’ Lorax, save the reader herself… if she so chooses.

And it is nothing like the movie.

lorax-mazda

This anthropomorphic Cheezel bounced onto our screens in 2012. It was a production of Illumination Entertainment – the folks behind Despicable Me – and it was the second full-length animated adaptation of a Dr Seuss book, the first being Horton Hears a Who. On its opening weekend in the US alone, it made more than its $70 million budget. The worldwide total was nearly $350 million.

Apparently, Audrey Geisel herself – Dr Seuss’ widow – told Illumination after Horton that this was ‘the one I want to do next’, and… ohhhh, that just makes me even sadder. I can’t imagine she would have known there would be toilet humour and 70 (seventy!) product integration deals. After reading about the aims of the people who led the team that brought this to the screen, it’s clear that no one individual can be blamed for how badly the film misses the mark. It looks like a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Great. Spoiled broth. Now I’m depressed about food wastage again.

(As for the short film version from 1972: it’s faithful to the book, and it’s decent, if you can put aside deeply-held convictions that the narrator is reading it all wrong and Mum used to read it better. Go and watch it if you want a refresher on the basic story, but I won’t be discussing it today.)

Now let’s continue the theme of being forced by Mouse to watch my childhood favourites ruined with  Dr Seuss’ Hollywood’s The Lorax.

*

We begin with the Illumination Entertainment title card. Some Minions find a Truffula tree and put a chainsaw to it, only for one of them to be crushed under the buttocks of a portly Brown Barbaloot. And this is a warning sign. Already, we’ve got a butt joke, a rather callous attitude to the Truffula trees, and the first of many callbacks to Despicable Me. I actually love Despicable Me, but don’t care for the Memeions Minions.

The movie begins on a stage, which is… an odd choice. Danny Devito’s Lorax wanders on screen and sets the scene with a poem. It more or less matches the metre and rhythm of the picture book, although it’s perhaps less inventive and hold up a second. No. Let’s revisit how the Lorax is introduced by Dr Seuss. I believe it says he was shortish and oldish and brownish and mossy.

tsqhuntsman.me

Am I… absorbing Nit’s powers?

I know, it’s pedantic, but stay with me. The original Lorax first appears here, climbing out of a stump:

lorax-stump

The effect is that he seems like a spirit or sylvan god, awoken by the first sign of trouble in his forest. (That’s a link to a beautiful artistic reimagining by artist Tony DiTerlizzi and his daughter Sophia, by the way, which makes me weep for what could have been.) ‘Brownish and mossy’ indicate that he’s meant to be kind of grubby and wild, a creature of the woods. Here, he looks browny-orange to me. Illumination’s Lorax is bright orange, fluffy, clean and he’s on a stage. He seems totally comfortable in a man-made environment.

This bodes ill. I am displeased.

He introduces us to Thneedville, a town which is ‘plastic and fake, and [the citizens] like it that way’. There’s a song that presents the wonders of Thneedville to us. The song is fine. Thneedville has plenty of Seuss-y hallmarks. The townsfolk look like Seuss’ illustrations, with thin lips, tiny noses, wide round eyes, flexible limbs, dramatic hair, and in some cases, big bouncy curves.

people

Trust me, Yellow Trackies Guy is there because round bodies are fun to draw.

That image is from later in the movie, but check them out in comparison to Sally and her brother from The Cat in the Hat:

sally-cat-in-hat

Pretty similar, right? At any rate, it’s a vast improvement on these monstrosities from a decade before:

maxresdefault

‘SING YOUR TERROR TO US, EARTH-CREATURES. LET US FREE YOU FROM YOUR SKIN.’

But something is wrong.

The song is doing all the exposition: ‘the air’s not so clean’, ‘we don’t care where pollution goes’, ‘we make our own trees in factories and they use 96 batteries’. But the visuals don’t match up. Thneedville looks like a big old theme park. The air looks fine. The people look happy and healthy. I can’t put my tarsus on why this bothers me just yet.

Anyway, so we’re introduced to Ted (Zac Efron), an ordinary Thneedvillian kid who goes hooning around town on a very Suessy-looking but clearly gas-guzzling motorised unicycle. Ted has bought a toy plane he’s testing out for the first time… except he’s actually crashing it in his neighbour’s back yard as an excuse to get invited into the home of his crush Audrey (Taylor Swift). Their interaction at the door hits every beat you’d expect – the slo-mo hair swish, the awkward fidgeting, the slightly sleazy moment Ted takes to spray his mouth in case they kiss.

Three things strike me.

One: Audrey says, ‘O hai, Ted’, which means it’s time for a very special cameo!

wbn0mve

Two: they named Ted and Audrey after Ted and Audrey Geisel. I can’t decide if they did this out of genuine respect for the couple, or merely to pretend they did. I suspect the latter, since Audrey-the-character is pretty two-dimensional.

Three: awful casting. Efron’s voice is jarringly deep for a twelve-year-old character. In the Thneedville song, a couple of singing townsfolk had voices that didn’t match their design at all, like an old man who sings like a 25-year-old and a chunky guy who sings soprano about a carpark. At the time, I assumed it was for comic effect. But hearing Swift act, I’m starting to wonder if the casting director actually knew what voices are supposed to sound like at all. Her delivery is as flat as a cane toad on a highway.

Anyway, Character-Audrey is a budding artist. She’s showing off her latest mural to Ted: a field of Truffula trees. Credit where it’s due – this is a very pretty film. The colours are as bright as a confectionery shelf. And despite Swift’s acting, the use of Seuss’ lines describing the Truffulas is used to great effect: there’s something poignant in Ted and Audrey being totally unable to imagine trees that smell like butterfly milk. They lie side-by-side on the Astroturf, looking up at the images of the natural world they’ve never seen, and for a moment, it’s sweet. It looks like Audrey might be the daredevil dreamer who drags Ted out of his comfort zone in her quest to find the Once-ler and investigate how a whole ecosystem was driven to extinction…

Right up until she says she’ll instantly marry any guy who can get her a real tree.

Alice Facepalm

Yep. There’s a ‘get the girl’ plot in this movie.

Later, Ted is at home, listlessly jabbing at his dinner of flavoured jellies/Jell-Oes…

And I just worked out why the song was niggling me. 

Ted is bored when he ought to be sick.

Well, I mean, clearly he’s intended to be a fully sick dude on his little flame-painted bike, but he ought to be ill.

Or if not sick, then poor. Or starving. Or afraid. Or disturbed. Or fucking angry! He should have a song about how furious and betrayed he feels or something. His brain is clearly playing Muzak when it should be playing this:

YEAH!

Here’s the thing. A common trope in eco-fiction is that of mutual suffering. The decline of humans’ immediate surroundings – and often, their own bodies – is a parallel to the decline of the planet. This makes the stakes obvious: to save themselves, the characters must do something about the state of the world around them. Look at this.

02

The town in the background of this first illustration is small and the streets are empty, suggesting a failing economy due to poorly-managed resources. This is reflected in the lines you have to toss in fifteen pence and a nail, and the shell of a great-great-great-grandfather snail. What’s the Once-ler going to do with that? He can’t eat that shit. He’s testing the child to give whatever he can to the cause. And all this kid can spare is a bit of small change and some crap from the garden.

Thneedville is a boomtown. The people sing happy songs and dance around their plastic gardens. There doesn’t seem to be any consequences for not using O’Hare Air, such as – oh, I don’t know –  not being able to breathe, since they sing just fine outdoors. The sky looks clear and blue. And Ted’s only reason for finding out about what happened to the trees is to maybe impress the first girl he’s ever had a crush on.

This creates a sense that the stakes in this movie don’t matter.

Considering we’re talking about a huge collection of issues that add up to possibly the worst problem we’ve ever faced as a species, the stakes should matter.

But to return to the story, Ted asks his mum and nanna about the trees. Mum (Jenny Slate) isn’t interested, but Granny (Betty White) mentions a Once-ler who knows what happened. (The mum is actually pretty funny, with her dorky dancing and deadpan takedown of Granny’s ‘magical fables’.) Granny sends her out of the room on false pretenses in order to give Ted the clues he needs to get his tree.

‘Far out of town,’ she says, ‘where the grass never grows…’

Wait. Stop the movie again. Can’t let this slide. I owe it to Nit.

tsqhuntsman.me

Didn’t even have time to scream, the poor delicious bastard.

Theodore Seuss Geisel knew the impact of every creative choice he made. Where the grickle-grass grows is an important line!  ‘Grickle’ calls to mind words like ‘sickly’, ‘stick’ and ‘prickle’. ‘Grickle-grass’ sounds like a weed – a skinny, thorny, nasty sort of plant – and this is reflected in the illustrations. What’s more, it heightens the suggestion of the Once-ler’s domain as an abandoned place.

Let’s look at Granny’s revision: where the grass never grows. That shouldn’t be unusual to our hero. Ted has never seen a living plant before, so grass not growing is nothing to remark on. Seuss’ line is unique, memorable and evocative. The film’s revision of it is bland, forgettable and doesn’t make much sense in the world of the story. Moreover, it reflects a general problem of the movie: they’re not thinking through how their creative choices affect the story.

But okay.

Ted rides his little monobike to the wall surrounding Thneedville, follows Granny’s advice and finds a secret hatch to the wasteland outside. At this point, the visuals do start to look much darker and much more appropriate to the thematic content of the story. Look at this.

lorax-forestbad

It could have all been like this! It could have been eerie and wonderful the whole way through. Somebody involved in this project got it. Why were they overlooked? Everything in this sequence is quiet, chilling and gorgeous.

For about five seconds.

Then Ted is dodging axes that loom out of the darkness, and getting thrown into the air by WHOA, booby traps, *banana peel sound effect*, 3D, 3D!

For all the visual spectacle of this film, the animation, too, leaves something to be desired. The motions are kind of… weirdly over-acted. There’s more emphasis on almost every movement than there needs to be. It’s hard to pin down but there’s just something hammy about it. Of course, cartoon motion should be exaggerated, but it’s… strained, somehow. I feel like there’s some sweaty exec stressing over this whole project, yelling at the animators, ‘It’s gotta be zany! This is Dr Seuss! Jesus Christ, Steve, you call that zany? Bigger! Have the kid do fuckin’ flips around his house! Put the granny on a snowboard! Think wacky, people, come on!’

But I’m dallying.

I’ve been dallying for ages.

And with very good reason.

You see, Ted has arrived at the Once-ler’s shack. He asks about trees. The Once-ler (Ed Helms), visible only as something hairy with gloves at this point, says he didn’t think anyone cared about them. ‘That’s me,’ says Ted. ‘The guy who cares!’

599509_005

‘… about GETTIN’ LAID, yo!’

The Once-ler agrees to tell the story of where the trees went. And now we come to a point which causes much gnashing of teeth for fans and critics: the Once-ler’s face.

Namely, the fact that he has one.

Fans of the book are pretty passionate about this point. There are several theories as to why the Once-ler is named thus, and why he has no face in the picture book and in the faithful telemovie adaptation. They include:

  • He’s named the Once-ler because of his obsession with the past; the world as it once was.
  • The name reflects how unsustainable his practices are; he can use the natural resources only once, because he doesn’t set anything in place to allow the continued existence of the ecosystem or even his business.
  • It’s because he’s a storyteller. People call him the Once-ler as in ‘once upon a time’. He clings to the only good he can do in the world: telling his story.
  • He has no face so that he can represent anybody.
  • He has no face because he represents a ‘faceless’ corporation.
  • He has no face because most wild creatures would only know a human as a sort of boogeyman; as a source of distant noise, as the force behind a weapon or as the shadow behind the wheel of a machine.
  • He has no face because the kid he’s talking to only sees his hands. The boy is imagining only the hands in the story because he’s watching them move while he listens.
  • My theory: the child, the Lorax and the animals all have faces. The  Once-ler and his relatives/workers, meanwhile, are totally hidden from us (remember, those aren’t green hands, but Snuvvulous Gloves). Dr Seuss reduced the visible parts of the Once-ler to a mysterious set of grasping hands and trampling feet to increase our empathy for the characters who do have faces.

The movie treats ‘Once-ler’ as his actual name. People call him ‘Oncie’ for short. What’s more, in giving him a face, those possibilities I just described are lost. Granted, perhaps making him look like a man humanises him to a degree. That was the intention, according to an executive producer: they wanted him to be more relatable, for fear that the audience might shrug off responsibility if they showed us an inscrutable monster. And, yeah, I can see why he has fans. The long skinny limbs, the elastic way he moves and the wide-eyed boyish face are appealing design choices.

But when people read the book, they question why he doesn’t have a face. The imaginative interpretations of this quirk of the book are so much more interesting than the face that he’s been given.

Here’s a thought: they could have had their human Once-ler, with his dreams and plans and long gangly legs, and still kept him faceless by doing his scenes through his perspective. We know he can sew, so maybe they could have bundled him up completely – a clear representation of being so caught up in his own creations that he’s effectively imprisoned in them. That way, we would never see him touch the land he’s hurting, because every inch of him would be separated from nature by man-made objects. Maybe something like this:

boom-easy

Five minutes, scrap paper, still humanoid, no face.

These people trained to be writers and directors and animators for years. They were prepared to drop $70 million US on this project. If they’d stopped to think through the possibilities, it could have been amazing.

Instead, the Once-ler has the face of an entirely generic young bumpkin, complete with trilby and beat-up gee-tar. He’s a kid with a dream, blah blah, family doesn’t believe in him, blah blah, he’ll show them, etc.

When the Once-ler finds the Truffula forest, though, the woodland creatures are all there to welcome him, from Swamee-Swans to Barbaloots. They’re a touch too cutesy for my taste, singing and dancing along with him in high-pitched voices. Here was an opportunity to expand the forest, ignored for some reason. I get the feeling that nobody was able to look at the Truffula forest with a naturalist’s eye. Thneedville is prettier than the Truffula forest, because the creators have magnified what they know (civilisation) and neglected what they don’t understand (nature).

Look, I get it. I’m super lucky. Not everyone can have half a dozen parrot species hanging out in their backyard all the time. But would it have killed these guys to have taken a seminar, or a day trip to a local park?

For comparison, here’s Dreamworks’ stunning variety of ‘Croodaceous’ creatures:

Croods-animals.jpg

Hell, they could have lifted creatures from One Fish Two Fish, or The Things You Can Think. Instead of the sordid love story, they should have expanded the nature we’re supposed to care about!

Anyway, the Once-ler quickly falls out of favour with the local fauna, then wins them over with a snowstorm of marshmallows presented in heavenly slo-mo and this is hard to watch, ladies and gentlefolk, it really is.

There are two perfect moments, quickly undercut by the surrounding slapstick fluff. The first is the felling of the first tree. It’s presented as a disaster from the animals’ perspective, and very effectively done. The second is the mourning of the tree, after the Lorax comes on the scene. It’s gentle and sad, with all the forest detritus bringing a stone as tribute to the tree. You get the feeling that they know these trees individually, that they’re grateful to them, connected to them.

All too soon, we’re back with Ted. Turns out Aloysius O’Hare (Rob Riggle), richest man in Thneedville, has surveillance on the whole town and isn’t a fan of Ted’s latest hobby of Once-ler seeking.

pure_evil

God, that chair looks comfy.

This long-lost brother of Edna Mode is the town’s oxygen merchant. See, Thneedvillians buy the air they breathe in containers that very deliberately look like the big bottles you put atop a water cooler. The next phase is a line of mini bottles, like single-use water bottles, marketed as ‘instant refreshment’. As a character, O’Hare is a rather weak creation, but I like the update to the story as much as I hate the concept of bottled water – which is to say, a lot.

But even this addition is problematic. See, trees produce food, stabilise the ground to prevent erosion, provide habitat, serve as windbreaks and a whole bunch of other important functions depending on the species, but they’re not actually responsible for most of our oxygen. 70-80% of that honour goes to this stuff:

algae-1030x682Earth is more water than land, after all, and algae don’t tend to be fussy. It stinks of wilful ignorance that the studio ran with this whole idea of O’Hare selling air, and wanting to destroy trees to eliminate his competition. He’d be better off doing a promotion with drain cleaner –

[Comm] Unshavedmouse alt

‘Yo, Hairylegs. Enough with the science lessons.’

tsqhuntsman.me

‘No! The people shall fill their cups with my plankton factoids until they are drunk with knowledge!’

O’Hare promises Ted that if he catches him sneaking out again, he’ll become the kid’s worst nightmare – ‘Frankenstein’s head on a spider’s body’ – which is a) frankly RUDE and b) nonsensical, see grickle-grass gripe above.

Ted, of course, disregards the chinless homunculus and heads back out to see the old man. The Once-ler susses out that Ted is here because of Audrey. Audrey really should be here herself, since she clearly cares a lot about trees and has done her research on them. I hate that she’s this passive trophy who only exists to motivate our male hero.

I mean, she’s not even trying to lure him into a crevice so she can devour him and convert his bodily protein into eggs. Mammal courtship is weird. 

Back in Flashback Paradise, the Lorax and the wildlife have a cunning plan that they’ve stolen right out of Pixar’s alien-abduction short, Lifted. They remove the Once-ler’s bed, with him in it, and plop it in the river. But uh-oh, there are rapids ahead and a baby Barbaloot is also on the bed so the Lorax and the fish all try to retrieve the bed…

Excuse me a moment. I need to make a call.

minionphone

‘Bello, Illuminata Enterbanana, mi Karena.’

tsqhuntsman.me

Yeah, hi, Karen. I’m just calling about a problem with the movie your company sent me.

minionphone

‘Uh-huh – pota kamino?’

tsqhuntsman.me

Well, it seems to be missing something. I believe it’s called THE PLOT.

Honestly, this goes on FOREVER. With the bed episode over, and an apology from the critters, our sometime antihero promises never to kill another tree. Then there’s some nonsense about the creatures sleeping in his house to try and annoy him out of their valley. Then he tries to sell his multi-purpose but ultimately useless Thneed. The introduction in the style of an infomercial is clever, but the week of townsfolk pelting him with tomatoes is not. Finally it lands on a hot girl’s head, there’s another merry little song, and Once-ler is an overnight success.

I am, no lie, an hour into this movie and we have barely cleared page ten of the forty-five page picture book.

We’re back with Ted for no reason. O’Hare has painted over Audrey’s mural. She does nothing about it. He’s blocked Ted’s secret exit, which is overcome with the monobike, made-for-3D leaps of death, and much shouting of ‘Whoa!’

Yeah, mate, the woe is really setting in for me, too.

Meanwhile, in THE ACTUAL STORY, the Once-ler’s family have arrived on the scene. They’re all here: the cliched doofus brothers, stage mum, wimpy dad, grumpy older aunt and sense of deep disillusionment with my life. They believe in him now, so yay for Oncie, I suppose. And their caravan is pretty nice. The Lorax taunts me with a taste of what might have been with the warning to the Once-ler that ‘a tree falls the way it leans’ (also, ‘down’; nice foreshadowing).

But move over, theme. Move over, plot. Make way for more slapstick.

The family aren’t satisfied with harvesting Truffula tufts. They suggest chopping trees to improve productivity. Once-ler gives in, because he’s an artist and we’re wusses, but the Lorax is as determined as ever. His final warning – ‘this is bad’ – prompts yet another song, How Bad Can I Be?

hqdefault

Tuneless and repetitive, that’s how.

And just like that, the really chilling stuff- the whole plot of the book! – is crammed into three minutes of villain song.

I don’t like the lyrics or the melody. But the visuals in this part are stupendous: the whirring cogs of the factory, the creatures running from the falling trees, the Once-lers growing into giants whose voices blast the Truffulas flat. It makes me wonder if the song is annoying and cheery on purpose, to deliberately jar with the terrible destruction on the screen.

But it’s brushed under the rug too quickly. See if you can figure out how long the swans choking on the smog, the Barbaloots running out of food, and the Humming-Fish getting swamped by Schloppity-Schlopp all take:

Did you catch it? You’ll be lucky if you did, because those three crucial scenes take less than ten seconds.

And this points to what is, really, the main problem of this film.

It doesn’t want to dwell on darkness. It would rather be likeable than meaningful.

The Lorax isn’t meant to be likeable. The Lorax is meant to be a cautionary tale. It’s meant to make you sad and angry and afraid for the future. At the conclusion, it offers you just enough hope to turn that despair into determination, if you have the inner strength to believe it might work.

The movie doesn’t want you to be sad.

The movie bombards you with bright colours and catchy songs, with gags and little cute creatures, all in the name of fun. Now, fun and happiness are great. I want to have them in my life for as long as I live. But happiness doesn’t motivate you to do anything except seek out more of it, and perhaps share it. This movie wants to leave you basking in a glow of conflicts resolved, to go home full of warmth and complacency.

What made the original so bittersweet, so interesting, was its contrast. The darkness of the story makes the light at the end more powerful.

Anyway, the song ends, the trees are gone, and the Lorax returns to make a last plea. Once-ler shouts him down: ‘if you didn’t like it, why didn’t you use your powers to stop me?’ But since the Lorax is only able to speak for the trees, not stand in the way of a billion-dollar industry, he’s unable to save the last Truffula.

I…

I’m sorry.

It’s just, I’ve never seen the Great Barrier Reef.

I’ve never seen it. And maybe I never will. 93% of it is dead, and the government wants to build three shipping channels and a coal port on what’s left. It’s probably going to die before I do.

I need a minute.

149734xcitefun-cute-spider-1

‘People talking without speaking… people hearing without listening…’

The last tree falls. The animals leave, all of them cold, sick and hungry. The Lorax floats up into the sky. The fickle family drive away. Once-ler is left alone in the ruins.

Back in the present, the Once-ler, now full of regret, hands the last Truffula seed to Ted. ‘It’s not about what it is, but what it can become,’ he says, which is kind of nice because it’s probably how thousands of parents explain the single seed to their kids after reading the book. Ted promises not to let him down.

And that is the end of the movie!

Yes, indeed. It finishes right here, right where the message is most potent and the horror of the destruction is still fresh in our minds. For all its flaws, it at least gets the ending right by stopping right here, where the book did.

It certainly doesn’t have another twenty-five minutes of silly action sequences. There are no instantly-blooming Truffula seedlings. Does Ted ever go out with Audrey? We don’t know, but because the movie ends here, we can only assume that this first love is eventually translated into a passion for nature that lasts longer and means more than any tweenage crush. There are no saccharine songs here. No further redemption for the Once-ler. No gags about O’Hare’s Napoleon complex. This is where the movie ends, and our imaginations must supply the rest.

Just kidding.

It faffs around for nearly half an hour, utterly eviscerating the power of the seed-entrusting scene. Then some Humming-Fish dance to a poppy version of ‘Let It Grow’, which has been rewritten from a song about humanity realising the importance of trees into some tripe about letting confidence grow in your heart.

tumblr_n7c0d4ipxx1tq4of6o1_500

Hoo-bloody-ray.

*

Look, I’m not going to rate this thing like Mouse does.

As a movie on its own, it’s a feast for the eyes, but the mind and heart are left wanting.

As an adaptation, it’s an utter waste.

The animation’s pretty, and very faithful to the Seuss illustrations. The songs range from passable to abysmal (credits song, I’m looking at you). The characters are lazily written, with the exception of the Lorax himself, some of the time.

The thing about The Lorax, though – the picture book – is how it has become synonymous with its message. And the film-makers seem to have only an abstract sense of why the message is important.

The problem’s not abstract.

We’re losing acres of Truffulas every day. The Humming-fish are struggling to breed in oceans trawled to oblivion. We’ve got more Gluppity-Glupp and Schloppity-Schlop and smog-smuggered sky than we know what to do with, and it’s driving us towards our own undoing. We need the pollinators to thrive and the fisheries to flourish if we’re going to survive. Despite these incredible tools and trappings with which we surround ourselves, we are still part of nature, and it’s part of us. We have the intelligence, the means and every good reason to plant those Truffula seeds and shout down the Once-lers of the world.

To paraphrase the good Doctor himself, unless you’re an echinoderm, you have brains in your head and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

Choose wisely.

Alchemist out.

Amelia Mellor is an emerging writer for young people, based in Australia. Her debut novel ‘Anomalies’ was recently shortlisted for Hardie Grant Egmont’s Ampersand Prize. When not lurking on your bedroom ceiling, she can be found telling stories and making stupid gags on her blog. Thanks for reading. 

31 comments

  1. I must know more about Blinky Bill and Bollygum. Those are maybe the best names for children’s shows I have ever heard.

    Great review PA, looking forward to seeing more from you here in the future

    1. Blinky Bill played a lot of practical jokes. Bollygum was a picture book about a shy wombat and some other creatures helping a young possum find her way home. The lisping, portly goanna was my favourite character in that one.

  2. Well said.

    God I hate this movie. I was really looking forward to it too, and then that Mazda ad appeared and I lost all hope for it. Eventually caught it on TV, and it’s every bit as terrible as I feared.

    Pixar or Disney or even Dreamworks could do a Lorax film that would break your heart and stay with you forever, so why the hell did we have to give it to the goddamn Minions people? I don’t even dislike their films, they are good at what they do, but what they do isn’t this.

  3. I vaguely remember seeing the older animated short in grade-school, way back when. I think either a substitute teacher or some special guest lecturer put it on, and I can still remember when the Lorax shouts “I speak for the trees” as the forest is getting chopped down…

    Teacher: “Is anyone listening to him?”

    *Chorus of no’s*

  4. Oop, forgot to comment on the actual review…

    This might be the best Special Guest Review I’ve ever seen on Mouse’s site. I usually can’t stand pro-green cartoons, but when it’s someone as passionate as you speaking for it, well… that changes things quite a bit. Instead of play-acting upset, you sound *genuinely* upset, and it might not be in good taste to say that’s a good thing, but…

    1. No lie, RL, there were moments writing this when I just sat on the keyboard staring at the screen, wondering whether to tell Mouse it wasn’t fun anymore.

      Thanks, though. I’m glad I was able to turn it around somehow.

  5. I, too, found this young jerkass version of the Once-ler annoying…but then Pharma Bro arrived on the scene, and I was forced to concede the filmmakers had a point.

  6. Hooray, the Alchemist has survived the Snow Queen review and is back for another! This really is a Christmas miracle! Let’s see what our favourite Aussie Arachnid of Alchemy has cooking up this time!

    Ooh, Ratatouille references! This is going off to a great start! And I couldn’t agree more, I think all of us love a good roast. Or, in your case, a good roasted nit. I was wondering why I felt less itchy than usual. And I don’t even have to ask where your heart is, because we’ve got these wonderful entomology dioramas to show us for you! *looks* Hmmmm… Now that certainly is an interesting place to put it…

  7. Wow, I’m not sure if that crying picture made me giggle or broke my damn heart. I hate to see a grown arachnid cry. Hopefully you aren’t disheartened enough to sigh yourself out of existence. Many a good gnat has been last to sighs in sadness. Well, I’m sure you’ve caught enough members of Neil’s kind in your webs to make a difference, just remember that.

    Oy vey, anthropomorphic Cheezel? Those are some fightin’ words, but accurate ones nonetheless. Putting the damn Lorax in a car commercial of all things was a move as Despicable as the previous movie’s title. I’m glad I wasn’t watching enough TV when it came out to ever see it before I started watching the reviews, that would have just made me sad.

    If you want me to let you in on a little secret, I actually didn’t hate this one so much coming out of the theatre. I guess this is just another example of my rube-ness (I shall remind you that I enjoyed Aristocats), but I didn’t instantly see anything wrong with this reboot when I saw it. In any case, you make good arguments here. The point that living wastefully wasn’t portrayed as harmful in any way to the people is one I didn’t notice before, and it is a strong one. I guess the idea was that most folks probably won’t even notice anything wrong with environmental destruction, but the tell-don’t-show part is definitely an issue.

  8. Interesting argument for the Once-ler’s portrayal as well. I honestly kind of thought the filmmakers had a point in making him pretty clearly emulate the current generation in a you-youth-are-the-future-and-the-world-is-in-your-hands kind of way, especially with the decision to make him actually struggle to get into the markets at the beginning. I found the message that “you might not think you have much impact at first, and the effort you’ll need to put in to make it to a position of influence will make you want that power so much more, but even then, you can’t let that hunger make you forget your responsibilities” a pretty appropriately urgent one. Basically I figured the idea was, if he could be anyone, he could easily be someone else, and the idea of making him a gen. Y audience surrogate was part of the idea that saving the planet can’t be left to the next generation. Then again, the generation following the Once-ler does just that in this movie, so I guess the movie still defeated that purpose.

    Also, the idea of throwing in more Dr. Seuss creatures to increase natural diversity is just brilliant. Gets the idea across and makes possibilities for loads of mythology gags and inner references. Why did no one on the pitch board think of that?!? Are you sure reviewing the Snow Queen really froze your brain? Because you seem just as brilliant as always to me! Though I’m starting to buy the idea of eating Nit having a Ravenous-style effect on you, that nerd tangent on algae was just perfect.

    And I think you’ve described the problem with the compressing of the environmental destruction sequence better than anyone I’ve seen. Just about every reviewer I’ve seen has condemned that decision, in a fashion that to some might come off as a they-changed-it-now-it-sucked rant. But I think you’ve hit the nail on the head as to the issue and I think helped me understand why I wasn’t unhappy with this movie by the time the credits rolled, but pretty much no film critic liked it. My memories of the original Lorax movie aren’t all that positive, and its melancholy feel is a likely reason for this. You’ve made a pretty good point of how that negativity is actually a crucial part of the story, and how the more feel-good take the reboot took is likely its fatal flaw. This review might not have been the most smile-inducing in the world, but it sure was satisfyingly well thought out. Good work, Alchemist!

    …And here’s 8 handkerchiefs. I think you’ll need them.

  9. I’m upset about what’s going on, too.

    But people are changing. I see people in other countries fighting to save the environment. A man from India planted 50 million trees in a day. Protesters are fighting against a pipeline in the US. Even in Australia, people are lobbying for the protection of the Reef.

    And if all else fails?
    We get in a giant Ark with at least fifty DNA samples of each of the major species, as well as the best books, movies, TV shows, music, and video games, take off, and nuke the planet when we’re far enough away; both to make sure that polluters won’t follow us, and as a mercy kill to those who’d suffer the effects.
    We’ll check back in two hundred years, see how the bacteria and insects are doing.

    1. (I’m joking about the last part: I don’t actually want to nuke Earth.
      Do I want to ditch the Earth and fly into space? Hell yes. But I don’t want to destroy our home planet in the process.)

      1. Thanks, Lumina. I’m generally a cautious optimist about our ecological future, but at the same time, we’re on the brink of losing some really special things. It’s not enough to build a park where a forest once stood. An ecosystem is such a complicated web of interdependence, such brutal and chaotic equilibrium, that we can’t possibly recreate what we’ve destroyed at our leisure. We’re not that smart or that powerful.
        I once volunteered on a project that returned tens of thousands on sea turtles to a reef off the coast of Sri Lanka. Now, when you dive there, you can see three or four of the animals in half an hour, whereas ten years ago they were all but gone. It’s certainly not all bad, but the point of this movie should have been ‘we’re not out of the woods yet’, not ‘we already fixed it’.

      2. I know that contradicts how I concluded the review. To clarify, I meant we can sometimes rescue bad situations but to resurrect it once it’s gone is impossible. We’re never going to clone a thylacine, but we still have a chance to stop other species going the same way.

  10. For some reason, I never heard of the Lorax until this movie came out. I could probably find the short film somewhere, but I’m not that motivated to go and see it.

    As for this movie, it’s dull and boring in every way except the visuals. This and Horton Hears a Who did a pretty good job of capturing the Seuss style. Now only the movie could be good (didn’t think Horton was a bad movie tho).

    1. The original animated short is quite good, and worth a watch (not like it eats up much of your time). It’s animated in very much the same style as the original Grinch cartoon, but the story is much more melancholy and serious. I would recommend you track The Lorax down and watch it if for no other reason than to compare it to the soulless marketing zombie from 2012.

  11. I watched it through the first song on a plane, before having to turn it off. It was just so stupid. To be perfectly honest, I think the only way you can make a Dr. Seuss movie work, is by getting an experimental/auteur director or animation company with a clear passion for the material to take the story. And mold it into something that works as a film, but still carries the same tone and spirit as the book. Like what Spike Jonze did with Where the Wild Things Are. Personally, I think Laika could have made an awesome Lorax. And I still think Danny Devito was a good choice for the main character.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s