If it's crap ... We'll tell you
And so we movie into 2012's summer season of animated titles, which at many times can be a bit of a mixed bag to say the least. Today I made the decision to check out The Lorax, and although it wasn't as mortifying as "Happy Feet Two", this certainly wasn't what I was hoping for at all. Let's take a look.
So as you probably know, this is based upon an environmental story written by Dr. Seuss, and the original animated short is a very well put together little piece. It was creative, and managed the theme for kids in a way that they could relate to, if you haven't seen it yet it is well worth checking out. This new movie has been created by Illumination Entertainment (the same studio that brought us Despicable Me), and kind of tries to expand upon the source material. A young boy named Ted (Zac Efron) lives in a town named Thneedville - where everything is plastic and nothing naturally grows. Even the air is supplied by the O' Hare company since there are no trees to generate air, and the town is walled off from the outside world.
Ted listens to a story from his grandma (Betty White) about someone named the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who might know where a real living tree can be found. He wants this so he can give the tree to a young girl named Audrey that he has fallen in love with. (Tayler Swift) Ted exits the city through a secret door and finds the Once-ler, who first tells him the tale of where all the trees went to, and how he himself had been part of the story. It is in this tale that the Lorax (Danny De Vito) comes into, as the voice for the trees, and attempted to stop the Once-ler from making Thneeds from all the trees.
And, you might see an issue with the film just from the synopsis... the new material that has been placed upon the original tale isn't all that inspiring. A love story, adventure, a mean company ruling a small town, all the usual traits. None of it is really all that important and doesn't play into the primary element of the film - the Once-ler telling the classic story about the Thneeds and the Lorax. But in a very strange move, the Lorax is only in no more than two fifths of the movie; he may pop up before the start but doesn't enter the story for quite a while.
The movie itself follows in the animation style that we have seen Illumination Entertainment provide before, it is made to be very colourful, bright, and run like a morning cartoon. Except where Despicable Me was running with a few clever ideas and funny moments, it has all been completely watered down here for a far younger audience. I swear that almost all this film is either flat-on-its-ass lame jokes, stuff bouncing around the screen craving your attention, or cutesy shots as if it thinks you actually care for what's going on. The jokes in the secondary story of Ted are especially dull, with a script that really has no mark of quality to it. The romance is purely a mechanic for Ted meeting the Once-ler, and is played in that oh-so-expected slack kind of comedic manner.
The only interesting part of it all is the art visuals from outside the city, which I will hand to the film, were very impressive. They're bleak and dark, just as the old short film suggested. The Once-ler looks just as you would imagine too, and even has a pretty convincing voice. There aren't any revelations or drastic alterations to the source material for him, but I will credit it for trying to be genuine here. Though Zac Efron is sleep-inducing here in his performance, there's barely a single sentence given that has any energy to it, he sounds like he's reading the back of a cereal box. And his mother (played by Jenny State) is by far the most forgettable, with the story itself pretty much kicking her out of every scene. Except to dance to a disco-light artificial tree, and yes, it is just as bad as it sounds.
But if you think that was bad, the story between the Lorax and the Once-ler is almost worse. His younger form is just all over the map, being serious at some parts before going totally insane for no reason except that the film demanded it. As he finds a forest of Truffela trees that he can make his Thneeds from, he gets into several long scenes of "comedy" with the native animals. Which of course, include this film's versions of the Minions from Despicable Me, except here they're a trio of goldfish that you'll want to feed to a cat after you have heard them speak for the first time. Even from a critical level, he wavers vastly between befriending the animals, and then not caring two shits for them just because "he's the bad guy now". They try a song to try and translate across his motives, but it too is just a literary disaster.
Once the Lorax finally arrives to try and talk sense into the young Once-ler, he really doesn't come across as you would expect. He isn't the charismatic and devoted voice for nature; he's kind of a baffoon who just doesn't translate any genuine morals or messages. The film constantly says that he has some immensely strong powers that can help save the trees as well, but these prove to be entirely non-existent, and he turns out to have no power at all. I was just bemused at this for the longest time, that the film doesn't use the opportunity to develop their main character at all. Instead he partakes in many scenes of wild adventures, and just mucking about with the animals. Danny De Vito really has nothing to work with here, although his voice is one of the more charismatic ones in the film.
There really isn't much to be said for the end of the film, if you have seen the short film you will know the end of the Once-ler's tale. The movie takes this ending and simply slaps on a very... very long chase scene onto it, using it to add the obligatory rollercoaster-esque camera shots and prat-fall jokes. It looks, and plays like a third party PS3 platformer. And after all that, it tries to hammer home the message of the Dr. Seuss story, which barely got illustrated in the film at all!
I just.... I'm just having a hard time understanding how such a simple premise could be taken, and get under developed like it is here. The best thing that can be said is that visually it does at points give a great reflection of what the world would look like here. To that I would credit the concept artists who clearly wanted to do the material justice. Most of what is added on is just generic and ... plain. And the songs are very annoying here too, of which there are many of them unfortunately. The voice actors are simply not putting in any effort into their roles, the script is dire, and the pace is just a mess. It's like the film is terrified that if it sticks to its simple story for too long, the kids will get bored. And so it constantly levers in moments of as I said before, bright stuff bouncing round the screen for their joy. And that very rarely succeeds as a means to focus an audience's attention.
This really is every bit as bad, as the original short was good. It never devotes to the simple environmental message, and instead throws in streams of pop-culture references that really shouldn't be in a story like this. And that just shows that they didn't appreciate that the young audience would get what the Lorax had to say, so why make this film in the first place? True, it is totally harmless entertainment for them, and they'll mildly enjoy it on the whole. That's the only reason that I'm going to let this.... barely pass, it at least didn't become insulting. But this really is a very poor title from a studio I had hoped would improve and aspire to create something captivating. Instead, it's just another run-of-the-mill cartoon film for a boring Saturday morning.
I'm going to be fair to this, and give it a very Low Rental (4.5/10). If you have nothing else to bring your kids or relatives to, this will be okay. But really, show them some of the classic Dr. Seuss first at the very least. They may learn something from it, and not get confusing morals from the modern Lorax.
Thanks for reading! ^__^