Friday, May 11, 2012

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

            I am the Adam, and I speak for the movies / The good, the bad, and the inbetween / Those that make me feel pure joy / Those that are just made to sell toys / The Lorax is based on the Dr. Seuss book / After watching, I doubt the writers even gave it a look / This is the team that made Despicable Me? / Is it all downhill with movie #3?
            OK, there’s no way I could keep that up for the entire review.  The Lorax is about Ted (Zac Efron), a boy who lives in a town made entirely of plastic.  He wants to impress his crush Audrey (Taylor Swift) by getting her a tree.  To do that, he has to listen to the Once-ler’s (Ed Helms) story about his mistakes and his encounter with The Lorax (Danny DeVito).
            I’m going to try to avoid talking about the adaptation decay that I felt took over my reviews for Green Lantern and Conan the Barbarian.  Instead, I’ll look at the movie from the standpoint of just a viewer.  A viewer who came into the Lorax hoping to find a tale of environmentalism that’s full of wit, charm, and a good message in the end.  I didn’t get it.
            Let’s start with the jokes.  They’re awful.  Most of them can be seen coming a mile away.  This is mixed in with jokes that might’ve been funny if every trailer hadn’t featured them.  The Once-ler trying to pin the blame on a bear?  It was funny the first time, but it’s dead by the time you watch the movie.  The running gags also generally start out unfunny, and never actually become anything more.  There’s fish that sing.  One of the bears is fat.  The villain is short.  Even the best writers would have trouble trying to make these “gags” work.
            And then we get to the movie’s awful flow.  One long scene has the Lorax putting the Once-ler’s bed in a river.  The scene does nothing for the movie, just adds an extra 5 minutes to the running time.  The Lorax’s personality in general is just not right.  Again, speaking as a viewer, the problem is that the Lorax, for most of the movie, is Danny DeVito.  He has DeVito’s brash personality, and he’s being played for pure comedy.  And then suddenly something happens that forces him to get serious.  Don’t get me wrong here, when he gets serious, DeVito is clearly giving a hell of a voice performance, and I applaud him for these moments.  But it’s some serious mood whiplash.  It’s a complete 180 from how he acts for most of the movie.  There’s also the fact that most of the real meat of the movie, which is the Once-ler chopping down the truffula trees, is crammed into a musical number.  This is the actual story, and it takes place over a trippy musical sequence.
            Oh, right, this is a musical.  Following the standard marketing for modern musicals, none of this was mentioned in the trailers.  I can see why.  The songs waver between forgettable and embarrassing.  And they seem to think that, as long as they’re singing, they can do as much pure exposition as they want.  After all, how else can you tell the viewer that the townspeople have to buy air then to have them sing, “We don’t have real air, we have to buy it”?  And showing that the filmmakers got the cast because their names looked good on the poster and not because they were right for the roles, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift don’t get to sing.  The former being in the High School Musical series, and the latter being a musician, you’d think they’d get at least one number.  Betty White does sing, though.  Well, less singing and more “Talking in a vague rhythm with the music”, but close enough.
            The one thing worth praising about this movie is its look.  Well, this is a look we saw Illumination had down with the much-better Horton Hears a Who (before the studio was officially formed) and Despicable Me.  But they’re still showing that they have an eye for imaginative character and environment design.
            There’s two explanations I can think of for The Lorax.  One is that Illumination is the one-hit-wonder I feared they would be, and will leave a legacy of Despicable Me and nothing else of note.  The other, and the one I find more likely, is that Universal has a death-grip on them now.  The movie feels like it had executives looming over their shoulders, inserting running gags, forced action sequences, and marketable characters.  What you end up with is a movie as manufactured as the town the characters live in.
            Instead of this, watch: Wall-E again.  Comedy.  Romance.  An environmental message.  Peter Gabriel’s fantastic song Down to Earth playing over the end credits.  It still remains one of Pixar’s finest hours.

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