Sunday, 15 July 2012

Dr Seuss' The Lorax


"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."
- Dr Seuss

Hollywood hasn't been overly faithful to the timeless works of Dr Seuss in recent years. After the tragic failings witnessed in the live action adaptations of The Cat in The Hat and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, avid Seuss enthusiasts would be right in thinking the great American story-teller is probably spinning in his grave. Things weren't necessarily helped by the CGI adaptation of Horton Hears A Who, but at least as a stand alone film it's both entertaining and infectious in its overall enjoyment. Following in the footsteps of Horton comes The Lorax, Seuss' environmentally aware parable about the extinction of trees and the countless warnings from the story's title character which precedes it. 

It's not impossible to make a great film out of such short children's books. Spike Jonze proved as much when he fantastically brought to life the late Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are to the big screen. The Lorax nearly does such a job, but rather frustratingly the screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul blink first and get too bogged down in modernising the story with needless pop culture references, I imagine most kids aren't going to be particularly bothered about, and a ham fisted teenage love story it simply didn't need. Which is a true shame, especially when you compare it to Pixar's like-minded and infinitely superior environmentally weary tale, Wall-e.  

Nevertheless it would be harsh to say it wasn't entertaining, at times genuinely funny and even quite heartfelt when it eventually got round to it core message. The film features some gorgeous animation staying true to the vivid, unique vision of Seuss' source material and even features some terrific vocal performances from its cast. 

Danny Devito was particularly marvellous as the title character, typically what you'd expect from the cranky, brutally honest, now institutional actor. In fact the moments featuring the Lorax himself was where the film shined its brightest. One particular scene, not originally in the source material, where he appears for the first time and, along with the rest of the animals of the forest, mourns the first tree chopped down was a beautifully constructed moment the film should have strived for more often. 

Ed Helms was good fun as The Once-ler; delivering a nice blend of comedy, innocence and gormless buffoonery while having a terrific chemistry when it came to bantering with Devito's Lorax and Zac Efron's faceless protagonist. Personally though the film's comedy was at its best amongst the crazy movements of the animals which populate the forest The Once-ler inevitably destroys. Particularly the bears. The chipmunk voiced fish I could probably take or leave, but hey the kids will enjoy it. I think...

The musical numbers were well written and in the more tender and sombre moments the great John Powell delivered a trademark grandiose score - if you haven't heard his Oscar nominated work on Dreamworks' rather brilliant How To Train Your Dragon I seriously suggest you do so as soon as possible.  However it's sad and a bit of an injustice to Seuss' incredible writing that more of his playful, at times sheer mental, dialouge and poetry wasn't scattered throughout. The most notable was the quote placed at the beginning of this review. All involved might want to read that quote another couple of times before tackling the CGI Cat in the Hat adaptation they have planned next - but to be fair it can't be any worse than the awful Mike Myers version. 

Final Thoughts
If you're a parent and looking for something to grab your kids' attention for 90 minutes, The Lorax performs its duties as well as any animated tale you'll see in the cinema this Summer. Despite its loose and liberal tribute to the source material this version of The Lorax is still full of slapstick antics, well timed dialouge and some entertaining performances from its voice cast. However where it loses marks and will continually do so in most modern Seuss adaptations is in its nonchalant attitude and lack of ambition to reach out to its wider audience and tackle the story's biggest themes. Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot...

3/5

The Lorax is in cinemas across the UK on Friday July 27th, 2012.

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