The short version: the movie tells (or rather, includes) the complete and unadulterated story of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax in a fun, funny, beautiful, and generally unoffensive way.
The long version:
First of all, it’s obvious that the minds behind this movie loved The Lorax the way I did growing up. From the first line of the movie (“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.”) to the quote printed on the screen before the credits scroll over beautifully Seussy artwork (“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”), Dr. Seuss’ work is not only preserved, but respected and praised.
A Movie Within A Movie
Dr. Seuss book is too short and too simple to be made into a movie without adding a lot of material. Fortunately, The Lorax, in it’s paper form, is about the Once-ler telling the story of the Lorax to a child. Instead of trying to chop that story up, the movie-makers simply told a larger story around the original one.
The movie takes place in Thneedville, where everything is plastic and everyone is, generally, happy. One boy, Ted Wiggins, through a series of events short enough not to be boring, finds his way to the Once-ler’s to hear the tale of the Lorax–which is punctuated by a few of Ted’s short adventures (also short enough not to be distracting)–before returning to Thneedville with the knowledge he’s gained in what almost felt like a “thank you” to Dr. Seuss for the impact his book clearly had on the writers.
Highlights (Essentially, the most Seussy parts!)
The movie is packed with Dr. Suess’ original language (Betty White’s description of the The Street of the Lifted Lorax is almost word for word with the book), as well as homages to other Seuss tales like Yertle the Turtle and his various books about Whoville.
The mix of “original Lorax” and “the movie around it” allowed the writers to do a very cool thing by making the little boy who hears the Once-ler’s story (they named him Ted Wiggins) take an active role in the movie. As a person who’s felt the impact of my childhood love for The Lorax echo in my actions throughout the years, it was exciting to see the characters and the in-movie world change as a result of the lessons taught by the story–it also saves the movie from being forced into an “all hope is lost” style ending.
One last thing I loved about the movie, which I’ll discuss more in the next section, is that both the Lorax and the Once-ler were made far more compassionate and human without sacrificing their original characters.
Obviously, a review of The Lorax would be incomplete without addressing the light in which each side of this debate is portrayed. This movie, like a fair and even divorce, should leave both sides satisfactorily unhappy and begrudgingly satisfied.
Both sides are depicted as hard-lined, but with the capacity (though not always the desire) to see each other’s sides. They each use both noble and questionable tactics to get their way and, appropriately, a large portion of their disagreements are the result of misunderstanding each other’s tactics rather than hatred for each other. Here’s a breakdown of the sides as they are portrayed:
The Lorax is just as shortish and oldish and brownish and mossy as in the original story and still speaks in a voice that is sharpish and bossy. Pleasantly, though, he’s warmer to the Once-ler, urging “you’re better than this” rather than simply attacking him. The Lorax’s real warning to the Once-ler, after the Once-ler has promised not to cut down any more trees but is suddenly faced with the opportunity to see everything he’s worked for become real, is that “a tree falls the way it leans.” Worded for those who haven’t seen the movie yet; the danger isn’t in a single action (which often can’t be avoided), but rather in allowing yourself to ignore the impact of that action (and as a result, to perform that action again and again without thinking about it).
The trees, Swomee-Swans, Humming-Fish and Bar-ba-loots behave pretty much as nature does in real life–they interact with the Once-ler, at times fearful and at times appreciative, until they are destroyed. They don’t fight. They don’t shout their warnings over and over. They don’t provide that “one last warning” before they’re gone.
The Once-ler, whose movie character stole my heart, is effectively trapped between own compassion and the demands of society and success. As an aspiring artist with a dream I’m trying to sell, I really felt the Once-ler’s frustration as his thneed (for which he had worked so hard even though nobody believed was worthwhile) became popular and he was faced with the disgusting choice of “sacrifice your integrity to see your dream made real or throw away your life’s work for because you used to tell yourself you wouldn’t go that far to succeed.”
The Once-ler’s family, as well as the Once-ler (post-promise-breaking and rich-getting) are colder towards the environment, but are depicted as ignorant rather than evil. Further, the consumers (the people of Thneedville) are kept ignorant to the amount of pollution that their consumerism is causing. Pleasantly, their minds are changeable, though they require more than a simple, “change your ways!”
Other nice things:
The voice actors were great. The movie was visually stunning and payed homage to Dr. Seuss original artwork. The movie-in-a-movie aspect also gave kind of a past (original story) – present (Thneedville and it’s hard-to-break consumerism) – future (the opening of the consumer’s eyes to the lesson of the Lorax and the effort not to stop either side, but rather to compromise) aspect to the movie that provided a strong feeling of hope to the film.
I really have very little to say about the movie that’s negative. The animation style caused me to feel at first like the character’s mouth-movements didn’t line up with their words as well as I’d like, but that either became less noticeable as the movie continued or I just got used to it. Also, the songs at the beginning and end felt borderline preachy–an obvious danger in any message movie but one which the rest of the movie did a good job of avoiding.
Conclusion and recommendation:
I loved this movie. As a from-the-time-I-could-read fan of the Lorax who can recite pages of the book from memory, I can say that I’m not only impressed by the movie-maker’s preservation of Dr. Seuss’ work, but I enjoyed the vast majority of their additions. I would recommend this movie to anyone who has or has not read the book.
My only warning would be that the movie is fair and definitely paints a thorough picture of each side. If you’ve got a chip on your shoulder, you’re going to be offended by something (because you’ve got a chip on your shoulder–not because the movie was obtuse). If you don’t, though, then get ready for an exciting, moving, funny, and fun movie!
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Thanks and thanks again. Keep rocking with all that you’ve got.
– Bastion, of Grace at Arms