Film Torments: The Lorax (2012)

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JULY is renowned for its animated films… right? That’s the theme for the month and by God we’re sticking to it like 3D rendering to a clownfish (or something). Drawing us in is Rich’s take on 2012’s The Lorax.

Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel should need no introduction. His 47 children’s books, most of which were written in elaborate and finely honed nonsense rhyme, introduced the world to such iconic figures as The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch and Horton the Elephant. Sadly, since his death all of the above have been sadly immortalised on screen by Jim Carrey, Mike Myers and Jim Carrey (again) respectively. All of those films are offensive disgraces to children’s literature and children’s film, save for maybe Horton Hears a Who which slides by with mere mediocrity.

I’m aware that many people born between the late eighties and early noughties would have seen Ron Howard’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas at a young enough age to not realise how abysmal it is, and being a Christmas film it gets a free nostalgia pass because of the thirty seconds of “feels” crammed into the ending, which is delayed by a solid hour of unfunny Jim Carrey dumbfuckery.

It’s a terrible movie, from the grimy filter to the butt-ugly make-up to the gratuitous crudity of its humour, but it has become a holiday staple nonetheless. Even the moral that Christmas means a little bit more than what is bought in a store (because rhyming) doesn’t make it past Carrey’s lips for five seconds before he mugs and gyrates and moans his way through an obnoxiously loud and graphically over-literalised heart-growing-three-sizes routine.

You need to be this drunk to enjoy.

You need to be this drunk to enjoy.

Sadly, The Grinch made enough money to score one more live-action Seuss adaptation before his widow put a stop to the madness for good: 2003’s The Cat in the Hat. Poor Mike Myers ended his Wayne’s World/Austin Powers/Shrek run of success right there and five years later he was as good as dead in Hollywood, but I can’t blame him for the absolute turd of a script (which makes at least one allusion to turds, none of which even rhymed) and the utter contempt the film has for its audience. The Cat in the Hat should have been the last straw, but sadly the medium of animation wasn’t done with Seuss…

Which is odd considering animation legend Chuck Jones oversaw production of several Seuss-based shorts in the 1970s with teleplays adapted by Geisel himself. If you want to see a screen version of any Seuss book, those should be the first and last port-of-call. The cartoons come in at around twenty to twenty-five minutes, padding out the direct-from-the-book narration with effective dialogue and whimsical musical numbers.

They’re excellent adaptations. In many cases, they’re even ground-breaking. Jones’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is considered a masterpiece for good reason: the devilish character animation on the titular Grinch has inspired tons of animated characters since, from Scar to Mr. Burns. Perfection achieved.

But oh yes… this is a Lorax review…

2012’s The Lorax is the most recent of the feature-length Seuss films, and thanks to its ludicrous intake at the box office, it won’t be the last. The Lorax is a lesser-known Seuss book but also his favourite, a book with a deep and sincere environmental message. It’s a more philosophical work than we expect from Mr. Green Eggs and Ham, and a story which gives as much pause to the parent reading the book as the child being read to.

So, lot more pause than none at all.

So, a lot more pause than none at all.

The Lorax is a little moustachioed orange fellow who speaks for the trees, and defends the defenceless in the Truffula forest. The antagonist of the story is the Once-ler, an elderly hermit whose face is never shown, who was once an industrious businessman. The Once-ler made a fortune from a product named the Thneed, a versatile garment which can change its shape to fit your needs, by making them from the leaves of the Truffula trees.

The Lorax tries to reason with the Once-ler, but gradually the forest is obliterated. The Bar-ba-loots and Humming Fish and eventually even the Lorax himself leave their old home for greener pastures, leaving only a stone bearing the word “Unless”. With the supply gone, the Once-ler loses it all, and in the ambiguous final moments he passes the last Truffula seed to a young boy hoping that the trees and therefore the Lorax himself will return.

The end.

If that doesn’t seem like enough material to stretch out to ninety minutes, you’d be right. I’d estimate that less than ten minutes of screentime in the film is taken up by content from the book itself, and the rest is crammed with all sorts of stupid-ass shit which you can find in any number of lame kids’ movies, mostly attempting to turn the adversarial relationship between the Lorax and the Once-ler into a buddy comedy.

The Once-ler’s ambiguity is abandoned, and he appears as a lanky hipster who plays guitar, discovers the Thneed’s properties by accident and is manipulated into all of his bad decisions by pushy relatives. This Once-ler, rather than a prophetic cautionary figure, is a hapless jackass redesigned to appeal to millennials. His basic plot is intact, but the intent is gone: so much effort goes into making the Once-ler funny and likeable that his agency in the story vanishes.

But he sure can rock a hatchet.

But he sure can rock a hatchet.

Replacing the darker side of the Once-ler is an immensely irritating dwarf in an Edna Mode wig named Aloysius O’Hare, an “original” character for the film who makes me want to scratch my ears off. He’s played by Rob Riggle, an actor I’ve enjoyed in plenty of films, but here he’s insufferably unnecessary. In fact, the whole cast is full of hilarious actors; Ed Helms, Betty White, Jenny Slate, Nasim Pedrad and Stephen Tobolowsky all deserve much better material than this because they’re usually excellent.

The Lorax himself is played by Danny DeVito, well into the “fuck it, I’ll be dead soon” stage of his career which has gifted us with his magnificently malicious work on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia but also blighted us with alleged comedies like Deck the Halls and When in Rome. DeVito tries his damnedest to play the Lorax with heart but he’s lumbered with too many tasteless jokes to pull it off.

From interviews at the time, DeVito seemed genuinely invested in the project and he’s one of few filmmakers I’d trust to direct a Seuss film himself; like Carrey and Myers, however, he was given a script which did nothing to serve the iconic character and made him look like a hack.

There’s nothing of value in The Lorax for children or adults. The characters are shallow stereotypes, the moral is insultingly hypocritical when you consider that Mazda and IHOP were just two of the many corporate tie-ins for the anti-corporate film, the jokes are ill-judged and Seuss’ poetry barely makes an appearance.

The half-dozen musical numbers sound like they took about half an hour each to write and the ending is completely undone by an extended car chase sequence (what the actual…?) and a denouement in which the Lorax miraculously comes back for a cheesy happy ending which won’t make a single person reflect on themselves. “Unless” what? It all turned out fine!

If Seuss was alive today, he’d be appalled at what his work is being bastardized into, and I’m one of many admirers who is appalled on his behalf. Someday I’ll be a parent, and you can bet there will be Seuss books on the bookcase, but none of the alleged Seuss films. His name (or pseudonym… whatever) should no longer be placed above the titles on these film posters, because this is, by no means, Dr Seuss’ The Lorax.

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