Guest Blu-Ray Review: The Lorax
Universal Studios, 2012
Among the many attributes I can give to Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss (beloved author, skilled nonce word creator, champion pop hopper), one of the more unusual would go to the wildly uneven adaptations his stories hath wrought. On the one hand you have Chuck Jones’s 1966 animated short feature, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: smartly adapted and never overlong, featuring songs by Seuss and composer Albert Hague that suit the material perfectly. On the other hand, you have Mike Meyers gadding around an eyesore of a set looking like the bastard child of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Grizabella the Glamour Cat in 2003’s cinematic slagheap The Cat in the Hat, a movie so mind-numbingly awful that Seuss’s estate decided to never again allow a live-action adaptation of the good doctor’s work to be produced.
And then there is The Lorax. Released by Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment on March 2, 2012, The Lorax follows the basic beats of Seuss’s 1972 story but drowns much of the point in needless subplots and truly awful songs (hear Ed Helms rap!). We begin with Ted (Zac Efron), an earnest boy seeking to impress the girl of his dreams, Audrey (Taylor Swift, one of the few actresses who is more convincing in CGI than in person) by planting a tree in the middle of Thneed-Ville, a town where everything is synthetic: the plants, the animals, the character archetypes, etc. On the advice of his sassy grandmother (Betty White, because of course), Ted seeks out the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a hermit responsible for making the world outside Thneed-Ville a barren wasteland, and asks the old man to explain what happened to the trees.
Notice that I never actually mentioned the character of the Lorax in the above synopsis. This is because ultimately, the titular being has very little screen time. It’s a shame, really, and a prime example of where the movie goes wrong. The Lorax, voiced quite nicely by Danny DeVito (and really, who is better suited to play a short, hairy, likeable curmudgeon?), gets overwhelmed by the antics of forest animals, Ted’s lady problems, and tangled flashbacks. As the Lorax goes, so does the basic focus of the book: hey, maybe cutting down all the trees isn’t such a good idea. Oh, sure, the gist is there, but it’s intertwined between so many CGI furballs and marshmallows that Ted’s heroics become the conclusion rather than Seuss’s cautionary “Unless!” warning.
It does all look great on Blu-ray, however. The strangely hairy Truffula trees all have very nicely rendered fur without any of the pesky digital fuzz one often finds in CGI “hair.” The multitude of candy-colored creatures all pop off the screen (sometimes almost iterally, thanks to several aggressive shots ensuring that the audiences who paid premium 3D prices get their money’s worth) and blacks are solid with fine contrast. Interestingly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track may be the film’s most Seussian aspect. The cartoonish traitsreally play well here, with characters bouncing around all speakers and goofy sound effects creating a fabulously authentic Seuss environment. If only the rest of the movie was so thoughtfully conceived.
Assuming you’re over the age of ten or so, you’ll find very little substance in the special features, aside from a commentary track by directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda that ranks towards the higher end of CGI production tracks (if you’re into that sort of thing). Aside from that, there’s a deleted scene, remarkable mostly because it features finalized animation. There are three animated shorts and a whole lot of stuff aimed at kids: games, a sing-along, and a mode of viewing the movie so that it intermittently pauses to advertise fake in-universe products. The last feature is amusing for about five minutes, after which, it starts to feel less like the creative team is in on the joke and more like a lame example of merchandising run amok.
In the end, that sums up The Lorax pretty nicely. Underneath, there’s some tiny seed of good intentions and smart casting, but unfortunately it’s unable to take root after being doused with a heavy dose of commercial refuse. It’s hard to imagine anyone aside from young children walking away feeling satisfied, and even then they’d be better off reading the actual book.