Dr. Seuss' The Lorax [Blu-Ray]
Director : Chris Renaud
Screenplay : Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul (based on the book by Dr. Seuss)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2012
The Lorax, a clever environmental fable first published in 1971, has always been the angriest and most directly political book authored by the prolific Theodore Geisel (aka, Dr. Seuss), even though the author himself always professed to be wary of lecturing and speechifying. Thus, it is perhaps best that the cinematic adaptation of The Lorax was turned over to director Chris Renaud and writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, who previously collaborated on the CGI comedy Despicable Me (2009), which effectively mixed anarchic comedy with warm family values. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is everything you would expect in a big-budget, studio-produced 3D CGI musical comedy, and it’s a minor miracle that Renaud and company manage to maintain the impact of Seuss’ original message about the dangers of overindustrialization amid the cacophony of additional characters and action sequences, some of which appear to have been collaboratively designed as theme park rides. Seuss’ anger is generally tamped down, although it bubbles up from time to time, giving The Lorax’s zany musical fun a decided edge.
The story begins in Thneedville, a seemingly happy town in which everything is manufactured out of plastic and there are no living plants of any kind. Ted (Zac Efron), an affable adolescent who is eager to impress Audrey (Taylor Swift), the pretty high-school girl who lives down the street, decides to take it upon himself to find a real, living tree. This mission takes him outside the fortified walls of Thneedville and into the decimated wastelands that surround it, where he must find the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a bitter hermit who supposedly knows what happened to all the trees. In lengthy flashbacks, the Once-ler tells Ted of how he was an eager young entrepreneur who discovered a valley full of swaying Truffula Trees, whose candy-hued, pinwheel tuffs were softer than silk and provided the perfect material for the production of his Thneeds, knitted scarf-like things that stand in for all the usefully useless material objects with which we fill our lives.
When the Once-ler chops down one of the trees, he inadvertently summons the Lorax (Danny DeVito, whose voice is exactly as “sharpish and bossy” as Dr. Seuss described), a pint-sized orange creature with a walrus-like moustache who claims to “speak for the trees.” The Lorax urges the Once-ler to leave the forest before he destroys the habitat, which is home to bear-like Brown Bar-ba-loots, soaring Swomee-Swans, and orange Humming-Fish, who here play a similar all-purpose comedy role as the Minions did in Despicable Me (they also act like a kind of humming Greek chorus, similar to the mice in Babe). The Once-ler protests that he means no harm and even promises not to cut down any more trees, but when his Thneeds become a hot item and he must increase production, it isn’t long before he is employing his opportunistic family members (rather unfairly portrayed as selfish rednecks) and building a massive factory that requires efficiency at the cost of sustainability.
Daurio and Paul’s script expands on Dr. Seuss’ slim picture book with new subplots, half a dozen rock-infused Broadway-style tunes composed by John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Happy Feet), and numerous new characters. While much of this works quite well, it also comes at the expense of Seuss’ poetic wordplay, virtually none of which is reproduced here in any form. While Ted appeared in the book, he was really little more than an unnamed cipher to whom the Once-ler could relate his sad story. Daurio and Paul supply him with a family (Jenny Slate voices his high-energy single mom while Betty White lends her voice to his devious Grandma) and a love interest in Audrey. They also expand the environmental theme via the creation of Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), the diminutive CEO of a massive corporation that exploits environmental destruction by selling the gullible people of Thneedville bottled air and convincing them that they don’t want plants and trees because they’re dirty and messy (and not because they produce clean air for free). If the film has a weak point, it is Mr. O’Hare, who is so transparently evil that he lacks any real interest (he also proves that being short is the last physical attribute that can be unproblematically associated with vile behavior). The Once-ler, who is responsible for destroying the forest, at least demonstrates some sense of moral quandary, as his youthful idealism gives way to a thirst for more and more monetary success.
Not surprisingly, The Lorax quickly drew the ire of conservative commentators who saw it as anti-capitalist, pinko-commie indoctrination—an extension of last year’s leftist one-two punch of Cars 2 and The Muppets, which had the temerity to dig into the old cliché bag and pull out evil oil companies to play the heavies. Some have connected it to President Obama’s green initiative (even though the book was originally published when Richard Nixon was president), and on Fox News Lou Dobbs called it “insidious nonsense from Hollywood.” While there are some elements of it that are quite nonsensical (intentionally and otherwise), it is a far cry from insidious, unless one finds any parable that encourages us to consider the effects of our actions “insidious.”
Of course, the reverse argument—that there is nothing political or partisan about The Lorax—is equally absurd. Dr. Seuss, who cut his artistic teeth in the 1930s and 1940s as an ad man and then as a political cartoonist, knew full well the power of conveying ideas through clever, concise text and imagery, and when he wrote The Lorax, he did it with the specific intention of conveying his concern about industry “biggering” itself for no other reason than to become bigger and with no concern for anything else. The Lorax has been a political hot potato for years: In the mid-1980s the main character was adopted as an official mascot by the Washington-based environmental group The Global Tomorrow Coalition and the United Nations’ Environmental Program, and a few years later the book came under fire from the logging industry for unfairly depicting the cutting down of trees as the first step to laying waste to the environment. Interestingly enough, some liberal critics also took the film to task for watering down Seuss’ message and, more specifically, for allowing the book’s characters and ideas to be used for cross-promotional marketing of a new Mazda SUV. I guess there’s just no winning in a world where “liberal Hollywood” can simultaneously indoctrinate children into hating capitalism while also selling out progressive environmental values for crass commercialism and profitable marketing tie-ins.
|Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax Blu-Ray 3D Combo Pack: 3D Blu-Ray + Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy + Ultraviolet|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Universal Pictures Studios Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 7, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The 1080p high-definition presentation of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax on this dual-layer 50GB Blu-Ray is outstanding. The image is sharp, clear, and brimming with fine detail, from the individual whiskers of the Lorax’s moustache to the sheen of O’Hare’s creepily perfect page-boy haircut. Colors are bright and beautifully saturated, with strong primary hues that contribute strongly to the film’s hyper-storybook feel. The 3D version of the film is equally impressive, providing a striking sense of depth into the screen while also maintaining subtle elements of dimensionality that don’t necessarily reach out and grab you, but contribute to the overall 3D experience (there are, of course, plenty of “out of the screen” moments, particularly when the stairs suddenly appear out of the Thneedville wall). The fact that the film is so bright and colorful helps to ameliorate the inherent darkening effect of the 3D glasses, which I didn’t find distracting in the slightest (even the night scenes, such as the one in which the Once-ler’s bed is put in the river, maintain good detail and contrast in 3D). The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is equally pristine, with excellent clarity and an impressively robust sense of immersion. The film’s various songs are rich and full, especially when the choruses kick in and you feel like you’re right in the middle of Thneedville or the Truffula Valley.|
|The vast majority of the supplements on The Lorax Blu-Ray are aimed at little ones, giving them plenty to keep them occupied for hours. The highlight is three new mini-movies, one of which began as a scene that was later cut from the film and the other two of which simply riff on periphery characters. In the best of the three, Serenade, two Bar-ba-loots battle for a girl’s attention via increasingly absurd musical serenades, while in the slapsticky Wagon-Ho two Bar-ba-loots steal the Once-ler’s wagon and go on an increasingly chaotic ride through the Truffula Valley. In the third short film, Forces of Nature, The Lorax tries to frighten the Once-ler while he sleeps (this would have preceded the scene in the film where the Lorax puts the Once-let’s bed in the river). Afterwards you can watch a brief featurette about the making of the mini-movies. Kids will also enjoy “Seuss It Up!,” a video tutorial on how to draw the Lorax, a Humming-Fish and a Bar-ba-loot in the unique Seuss style (which, oddly enough, is only on the DVD and not included on the Blu-Ray), as well a numerous games: “Truffula Run,” in which players move left and right to avoid obstacles while attempting to pick up berries; “Once-ler’s Wagon,” which allows users to choose different items from the Once-ler’s belongings for the various forest creatures to mimic or play with; and “Get Out of Town,” in which the player must help Ted navigate through town on his scooter and solve puzzles in order to make it to the Lerkim and meet the Once-ler. “Expedition to Truffula Valley” is an interactive experience that allows you to watch different featurettes and look at artwork relating to the film’s various characters, and there is also a sing-a-long for the end credits version of “Let It Grow.” |
For the adults in the room, there are a few supplements that delve into the film’s production. Most interesting is the audio commentary by co-directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, who were recorded together and talk extensively about the technical and artistic challenges involved in adapting Seuss’ book to the screen. In that vein we also have “Seuss to Screen,” a too-brief four-minute featurette in which members of the cast and crew talk about how Seuss’ iconic visual style was translated into 3D computer animation. There is also a deleted scene involving the Thneed and “O’Hare TV,” a rather amusing viewing modein which the movie is periodically interrupted by commercials for O’Hare products.
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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