Judge Patrick Naugle used to be a toll taker on the Hoober-Bloob Highway.
Off the page and into your heart!
The creators of the animated blockbuster Despicable Me return with an adaptation of one of Dr. Seuss' most endearing books. Thankfully, neither Jim Carrey nor Mike Meyers are anywhere to be seen in The Lorax, now available on Blu-ray care of Universal Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Ted Wiggins (Zac Efron, Charlie St. Cloud) is a precocious young boy who lives in Thneed-Ville, a town filled with plastic and fake…well, everything. There isn't a tree or shrub to be found in this town run by the conniving business tycoon Aloysius O'Hare (Rob Riggle, 21 Jump Street). O'Hare has made sure everything is Thneed-Ville is either processed or manufactured by man, not nature.
Young Ted decides to venture out beyond the town limits—a huge no-no—to find a little seen Truffula tree for the girl of his dreams, Audrey (pop star Taylor Swift). Ted's adventure lands him on the doorstep of the Once-ler (Ed Helms, The Hangover), a grizzled mysterious old man who recounts his cautionary tale of showing up in a Truffula forest only to be consumed by greed, decimating the lush population for his own personal gain. This prompts the arrival of the Lorax (Danny "I speak for the trees!" DeVito), who attempts to stop the Once-ler's destructive path to no avail. As Ted hears the Once-ler's sad tail, he realizes he may be the only person left with the power to right some major environmental wrongs…before it's too late.
The Lorax is a 1972 Dr. Seuss book I'm familiar with through name only. I wouldn't say I was a Dr. Seuss fanatic as a child. I read some of his books (Green Eggs and Ham and Oh, the Places You'll Go) but certainly never possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the author's work. The one thing I do know about Dr. Seuss is that almost every recent movie made of his work has been nothing but big budget turds. Ron Howard's live action How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one of the worst holiday films ever made, and The Cat in the Hat is like watching the most colorful and obnoxious cinematic car wreck this side of Toys. The track record speaks for itself.
The good news is The Lorax isn't nearly as bad…though it's not particularly good either. As far as kiddie fare goes, this one is passable. In terms of catering to adults, it's a failure. The movie's message of environmental tolerance is so heavy-handed it practically clobbers the viewer over the noggin like a sack of bricks. Add a rather bland romantic subplot—seen dozens upon dozens of times in other, better films—and The Lorax becomes another middling, disposable animated movie that goes in one ear and out the other in record time.
Where The Lorax gets really bogged down is in its musical numbers, which populate the film like mold on a loaf of year old bread. It takes a special musical interlude to warrant stopping a story, and none of the ones here are even remotely essential to the narrative. They exist only to fill time, running counter to the very nature of Dr. Seuss' books which impressively free of fat and filler. I understand movies like this require extra material (the book was only around 45 pages long), but why does it have to come in the form of trite, over-produced musical numbers?
The other big stumbling block is the romance between Ted and Audrey, characters created to be the audience's window into the story. But why? The Once-ler and the Lorax really should have been enough of an entryway for little ones. The star crossed teen's amorous machinations only make for tedious nonsense.
The voice talent here is fairly extensive. Ed Helms, Danny DeVito, Rob Riggle, Taylor Swift, Zac Efron, Betty White…it's sort of a who's who of today's hot comedy talent. Everyone does their best at either being really sincere (Swift and Efron are so sugary sweet their characters almost come off as walking marshmallows) or totally different than the character actors we've come to know (Ed Helms is almost unrecognizable as The Once-ler, and Rob Riggle sounds nothing like himself as the villainous Mr. O'Hare). It's always a treat to hear national treasure Betty White in anything, even if its just a supporting role as a elderly doddering grandmother. Danny DeVito fits The Lorax perfectly, but ends up more as comic relief than as a serious meditation on environmental awareness.
Which brings me to the film's message. When a tree is cut down in The Lorax, it's treated as if a small child has been run over by a semi-truck. It's a noble sentiment, albeit a bit one-sided; maybe children should know wood is a useful resource, when used in moderation, but whatever. If the filmmakers would have employed a little subtlety, the emotional core may have struck a deeper chord. Because when the finale rolls around—featuring very un-Seuss-like car chases and action sequences—I found myself checking out of Thneed-Ville for good.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p widescreen, The Lorax (Blu-ray) looks absolutely gorgeous. This is a movie filled with oodles of colors, shapes and textures, all of which pop in dazzling high def. I don't have a single complain about the job Universal has done with these crystal clear visuals. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix—as well as the two DTS 5.1 French and Spanish alternate language tracks—sound fantastic. There are plenty of moments where the rear and side speakers are fully engaged (especially during the musical numbers), making for a bombastic and satisfying audio experience. Also included are English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
In terms of bonus features, we get an audio commentary from director Chris Renaud and co-director Kyle Balda; a short featurette on adapting the book to film ("Seuss to Screen"); three all new mini-movies; a featurette on the making of the shorts; two minutes worth of deleted scenes; some interactive features for the kiddies ("O-Hare TV," "Expedition of Truffula Valley"); a few kid's games ("Once-ler's Wagon," "Get Out of Town," and "Truffula Run"); a sing-along ("Let it Grow"); and bonus DVD and Digital copies of the film.
What can we glean from The Lorax? That Dr. Seuss needs to remain on the page away from the big screen. His books have inspired countless children to read and think about their place in the world. The same cannot be said for these cinematic adaptations. Fun for the kids, painful for adults.
The Lorax does not speak for me.
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