2012-02-27

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax – Dr. Seuss Done Right

by Yo Snyder

Movies based on books are never as good as the book themselves, and this is especially true of children’s books. After all, there’s far less material to draw from and therefore far more to fill in to make a full-length movie and therefore far more opportunities to screw things up (see Where the Wild Things Are or The Cat in the Hat for examples). Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, however, dodges this particular bullet. It captures the essence and heart of the book by remaining as true as possible, and all the stuff that is added to pad out the story actually fits quite well and feels like it belongs. While mostly fluffy and light like any of trees which are the center of the film’s plot, it’s also quite enjoyable and fun no matter what age you may be.

As my wife perfectly stated, the bigger concern for this movie wasn’t if it’d be a faithful adaptation of the book, but rather what the “Fern Gully factor” might be. Was it going to be another story that looks like one thing (Forest fairies! And the voice of Robin Williams! Fun!) only to turn out to be another (Humans are bad and we’re destroying the world!For shame! You should feel much shame!)? Fortunately the “Fern Gully factor” is quite low. Is there an environmental message here? Yes, just as there was in the book. However, it doesn’t bludgeon anyone with it and what we really want to see, comedic antics with the Lorax and the cute forest critters, are what’s front and center in the film; just as they should be. Instead of piece of environmental propaganda disguised as a kids movie, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a light-hearted, fun look at what happens when we don’t think about the consequences.

Interestingly enough, that’s other message of this movie; what happens when one truly embraces a relativistic outlook. It’s the second movie in as many months that’s pointed out what happens when we take some popular outlooks – such as evolution as fact and morality being relative (the other film being Chronicle) – and shows what happens when we carry them to their logical conclusion. It’s not bad to chop down the trees, it’s just a part of survival of the fittest. Sure, it destroys everything, ruins the environment, makes cute little forest critters homeless and forces a world of plastic fakery onto people, but it’s not bad, it’s just natural. Well results speak for themselves, and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax shows what happens when people follow through on ideas such as good and bad being relative and “the survival of the fittest” being the only universal law; it’s pretty bleak. Anyone would be hard pressed to say that results are at all good in any way. 

Now if that seems a little deep for a kids movie, don’t worry, like I said it has a light touch when it comes to the messages and focuses much more on the fun and the funny. I’m pretty impressed with how Illumination Entertainment can get so much comedy out of non-speaking characters. They did it so well with the delightful little minions in Despicable Me, and they do it again here with the various forest critters. Many of the funniest moments come without any dialogue thanks to the amazing expressions and subtle body language of these characters who don’t say a word but still speak volumes. Of course the speaking parts are pretty good too. Danny DeVito is pitch perfect as the cantankerous Lorax, Ed Helms excels as the good guy who gets in over his head, and while Betty White is underused, she’s as charming as ever in her role.

More importantly, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is one of the few animated films I’ve seen outside of Disney that understands the proper use of a musical number. While the songs in the film aren’t all that great ( they’re not terrible either), they at least serve a purpose beyond “a kids movie needs to have singing”. Disney has always been a master of using song to help progress the story or develop character, and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax does a pretty good Disney imitation with its songs. They’re bright, happy, catchy but most importantly, they belong in the movie. They help tell the movie’s story. Far too many kids films don’t understand how to do this and how to do it well, but this one does a surprisingly good job.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is Dr. Seuss done right. It captures the spirit and heart of the book, it makes insightful additions by pulling out some of the implications of the book and fleshing them out for a fuller story, and it’s pretty darn entertaining and charming. It has a good message that isn’t pummeled into your brain and is one of those rare movies that the whole family will actually enjoy. The 3D is used well in the film, its not afraid to have fun with it, so it does add a bit to the experience. I don’t think you’ll really miss out if you don’t see it in 3D, but it is kind of fun. More than anything, however, this movie along with Horton Hears a Who convinces me that Dr. Seuss was never meant to be live action, but his stories make for some pretty fun animated films, which seem to do a better job of bringing the books to life.