Friday, March 2, 2012

I’m Here to Speak for “The Lorax”

I’m such a fan of the stories of Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, that I’ve lost patience with the stream of film directors who profess to love Geisel’s work as they dance on his grave. The Ron Howard-directed How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Bo Welch-directed Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, and the Jimmy Hayward-directed Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! were pretty awful, adding bizarre backstories, characters, and storylines that often negated Geisel’s original work. I’m figuring Welch and Hayward added “Dr. Seuss” to their titles because nobody would associate their films with the wonderful little books otherwise.

This new film is officially called Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, to me, not a good sign. You probably already know Danny DeVito voices the character of the Lorax. It’s directed by Chris Renaud, who also directed the largely charmless Despicable Me. But I go into the theater fingers crossed. There’s got to be a way to do this, to expand a Dr. Seuss book while retaining the charm, essence, and bravery of the book. My question is: HOW will Hollywood create a happy, uplifting ending for The Lorax, not WILL Hollywood do this. How far away from the original text will this film venture?

Answer? Renaud’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is generally faithful to the original story, updating it in a thought-provoking fashion. Geisel’s 1971 book was written in an era when society was first becoming acutely aware of harmful environmental practices. Add forty years of pollution without much progress in environmentalism and you have the birth of Thneedville, a plastic-fantastic town where people are willfully ignorant of environmental issues and pay to breathe clean air. When did you last pay for a drink of water? An hour ago? We have men running for president who deny global warming. We’re living in Thneedville.

And while I thought the creation of the Grinch’s backstory in Ron Howard’s Grinch was—what’s the word I’m looking for—inane, adding the Once-ler’s (voiced by Ed Helms) backstory here is sharp. Corporate polluters always have a bag-full of reasons why their actions are actually good for society; and it’s interesting to watch the Once-ler apologize to the Lorax for cutting down that first tree, vowing never to destroy another, then go back on every promise once his thneeds become popular.

There’s more distracting, pointless filler than the film needs, like the puppy love story between Ted (Zac Efron) and Audrey (Taylor Swift); or the dumb, unoriginal chase scene involving the corporate baddie Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggles) and Ted. It’s nice to see Betty White getting even more work (in what has been a great few years for her) as Ted’s grandmother. And guess what—she’s really feisty. Ted Geisel would never use such tired clichés. But I’ll refrain from any more snarkiness. I think Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is worth seeing. And nobody’s more surprised to hear me say that than me.

OR you can stay home and watch The Lorax right now. The Lorax was produced for television back in 1972. Ted Geisel himself was one of the producers. It’s 25 minutes long, very faithful to the original book, and is available in two parts on YouTube. As you watch, consider this: how much did Geisel have to RESPECT his young viewers to figure they could handle the down ending in The Lorax? I’m figuring A LOT. It’s easy to slap a happy ending on just about any story, including this latest incarnation of The Lorax, except environmental issues don’t work that way. They’re not about quick fixes. They’re about behavioral shifts. Geisel knew that and he respected kids too much to mislead them. And let me speak for the book version, as well. It remains a small gem.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review! I'm glad the new movie felt worthwhile. Saw the trailer a while back and have been hopeful, even if the trailer was the 7 millionth to use that Polyphonic Spree song in it.