When I finished watching Universal’s new animated movie The Lorax, made by Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me) and adapted from Theodor Seuss Geisel’s children’s book by the same name, I could not help but feel something was off. I could not put my finger on it at the time, but something did not feel right. I wanted to like the movie at the end, as I was moved by the image of one friend embracing the other before the credits started to roll. Despite these feelings, I felt there was little I could fault The Lorax for.
To start, the design for the film is very good. The animators and art director captured Dr. Seuss’ look to his creative world. The color palette is excellent as colors just pop off screen. Even when the protagonist, Ted (Zac Efron), leaves the over produced Thneedville for the dark, polluted outer world to talk to the Once-ler (Ed Helms) in order to find out how to find and plant a tree for his love interest Audrey (Taylor Swift), the use of color is vibrant. The original score is good, and the songs written are bright and boisterous, if a bit over-produced and somewhat forgettable. Being over-produced is not always a bad thing. It depends as to how you want to use your songs, and in the case of The Lorax the songs that are done that way work in its favor after a second thought. Ed Helms as the Once-ler and Betty White as Ted’s Grandma are the best voice actors of the cast, but everyone else does decent work, even if Zac Efron sounds too old to be twelve. To figure out why I did not care for the film I had to ask myself “What about The Lorax did I not like, then?”
Although the screen was full of color, the visuals never really stuck for me. A movie being a visual art, the visuals are important to the storytelling of a film and nothing really stood out in The Lorax despite the colorful palette. The music, like I said, is enjoyable but forgettable. It took me five listens to each song to have the songs stick in my head and even then Muppet songs kept popping up in my mind when I tried to recall the tunes. Then you have that the character development was lackluster when it came to the protagonist, his love interest, and just about every character that is not the Once-ler. An example is Ted’s mom, who when first asked about trees is disgusted by the very idea. We never really hear her speak much that would incite development past that. Then Ted gets a seed to a Truffula tree, the mom sees the seed starting to bloom, and she instantly loves trees. Nothing was built up for her to change attitudes so quickly. The other thing that felt underdeveloped is the romance between Ted and Audrey. Basically Ted likes Audrey and Audrey likes trees. Audrey tells Ted that she would probably marry the first man who would bring her a real tree. Not that she will marry him just that she probably will marry him. Thus if Ted fails in finding a real tree he can still win Audrey’s heart, and if he succeeds there is still a chance that it will not happen. Therefore the romance adds NOTHING outside a convoluted attempt to have Ted meet the Once-ler! Because someone who is only one, possibly two, generations removed from trees could not be motivated by his own curiosity to seek out the Once-ler. In fact, it is the Once-ler who is the most developed character which is surprising considering he is in the movie for less than half of the movie’s run time.
Also, I just want to point out that the Lorax is sort of unlikable in this movie. Not only does he not see any hypocrisy in having fun with playing cards (seriously, how many trees do you think were cut down just to make that one deck of cards), but the Lorax sends the Once-ler down a river where there is a giant waterfall down the stream that one would assume he would know about, being the mystical protector of the land. Sure, it was not the Lorax’s intention that such a thing would happen because the waterfall is part of a stream that branches off from the main river, but the facts remain that he still tried to send the Once-ler down the river without any regard for what happens. Character deficiencies aside, the Lorax is not completely hatable. In fact, the first scene in which we see the Lorax is actually moving if a little silly. The same thing can almost be said about the bromance between Lorax and Once-ler; their relationship is slightly moving but is hampered by being, once again, underdeveloped.
Then the flood gates opened and everything hit me. Just because characters and plot points are underdeveloped does not necessarily make a movie bad, just bland, and being bland is not justification for my proclamation of something being off. Then I thought of the character Mayor Aloysius O’ Hare, the antagonist voiced by Rob Riggle, who is a very flat, one note villain who just felt thrown in just to add “tension” to the film. But O’Hara does a lot more than just be in the movie, he also simplifies the theme of the movie. It is this character that opens up a can of worms. In the movie, O’ Hare is a CEO of a corporation that sells fresh air and wants the destruction of trees so that air can stay a finite commodity and therefore can be sold. My question is how he is getting such high quantities of fresh air if there are no more tree left? Also, if he is mayor and a CEO of a large corporation, I can only assume that O’Hare’s company is the largest employer in the city. If trees are grown, I wonder how bad the economy will become. Granted, the time it takes for trees to grow will be enough to help shift the economic focus of the town of Thneedville, and it is not like the town does not have other sources of business, unless motor-vehicles were built by O’Hare Air or imported from another town. The thing is that none of these questions reveal the grey areas in the discussion matter. O’Hare is a villain that twirls his invisible mustache while tying metaphorical puppies to the railroads. Making the giant corporation the bad guy when you promote your movie using giant corporations make it seem like the producers do not really believe in the message, especially one that plays off so black and white.
And thus I figured out why The Lorax did not sit right with me. The movie, for the most part, is bland and forgettable minus a few moments. If it were just the vanilla ice cream equivalent of cinema, I would not have as much of an issue with the movie. I like vanilla ice cream sometimes, as do a lot of other people. Some people love vanilla ice cream; I’m not going to hate them for it. But then you have the shakiness of the message which causes problems. If Illumination Entertainment added some of the complexity the theme has to their tale, maybe I would not have the reaction I have. Instead, I have to say that The Lorax is going to be harmless and possibly enjoyable depending on your mood until you start to digging into the film, and I have to say this because while the Lorax may speak for the trees, I must talk for the movie.
Switch to our mobile site