This week’s short article on a short film comes courtesy of a recommendation by Twitter friend @Grizzly_Sar, a lifelong fan of The Lorax who, like most, was thoroughly disappointed by the latest shiny, empty adaptation of the book. So to coincide with the release of that rather lacklustre animation, here is an article and a link to a much older version of The Lorax that does a far better job of capturing the Seussian spirit of the book. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s an interesting contrast to the latest version.
One of my biggest complaints about the latest Lorax film is that it was just a bit too glossy to really make an impact. It was a film that speaks against mass produced rubbish, yet was perhaps guilty of being that very thing. It was a bit too sleek to be true Seuss. So here, instead, is a film that is a far more direct adaptation Dr Seuss, complete with rough lines, rhyming couplets and his distinctive character designs. It’s a lot shorter, but the advantage of this is that they cut out the pointless plot of a boy trying to impress a girl, and get straight to the actual Lorax plot. This section of the plot is remarkably similar to the feature film, in which ‘The Once-ler’ invents a multi-purpose thing called a Thneed, and becomes remarkably successful at the cost of the local wildlife.
It is, however, a far more effective piece of story telling than the Zac Efron/Taylor Swift film, making more of the eponymous character as he tries to defend the trees he loves. It feels VERY 1970s, complete with a funky soundtrack and rubbish songs, but does a much better job of getting the message across. Where the recent film addresses the rampant growth of capitalism with one awful song, here it’s the focus of the film, as each set of animals gets ousted from their home one by one, and we see the machinations of the factory that’s ruining the landscape. Neither film is subtle, neither film will win music awards, but Hawley Pratt’s short has something that was so crucially lacking from the 2012 version: character. It’s a charming, amusing little film, with some nice Seussian artwork and an admirable commitment to rhyming.
My DVD reviews now take a more personal approach (and a shorter one) than my cinematic reviews. I’m going to look at what I thought when I first saw it, and then what I make of it on second (sometimes third) viewing. Sometimes the two aren’t always the same…
First Impression: During a film festival where there were lots of serious films shot in muted colours, along came an animation that was funny and bright and had two songs that were really insanely catchy. I really liked The Lorax and became a bit of an apologist for the film in the face of increasing criticism. I argued that the unsubtle delivery of its anti-capitalist, pro-ecology message was necessary to get it into the heads of the kids. If they can come away from a film with a greater respect for the world, and realising that money isn’t everything, well that’s surely a good thing. I thought it was fun and vibrant enough to make the flaws in it largely irrelevant; yeah it wasn’t the deepest or most moving of films, but it was engaging enough for me to watch it a second time on a plane when I was bored of heavily edited low budget comedies. The second time the only things I really remembered were the insanely catchy songs.
Third Impression: This really doesn’t stand up to repeat viewing, which is a crying shame for all those parents who will inevitably have to watch it again and again when their kids find the bears and fish particularly hilarious. All the problems of the film become very apparent, and the shine begins to wear off when you realise the jokes aren’t very funny and the animation makes you feel a little bit nauseous. It’s so bright and colourful, which matches Dr. Seuss’ original drawings, but it lacks the rough, pencil edged charm of those books. This is as glossy and slick as the town of Thneedville, and even the candy colours of the Truffula trees feel like the direct product of a computer (all computer animations are, of course, the products of computers, but they shouldn’t feel like it). It has all the crazy curves and whimsical lines of Dr Seuss but the spirit behind the drawings is painfully lacking in this big screen version of the book. Even Horton Hears A Who did the Seussian aesthetic marginally better.
Not only that, but the meaningless plot built up around Seuss’ sparser tale, of a boy trying to impress a girl by finding some trees, is utterly vacuous and fails to leave any lasting impression. It is immensely frustrating that the motive for ecological action is a trite love story, totally undermining the message that the world won’t change unless someone cares an awful lot. The only thing our hero cares about a whole awful lot is the one dimensional heroine, Audrey. Audrey is played by Taylor Swift, the only cast member who is also a professional singer. Curiously, she is one of the only characters that doesn’t have a single line to sing in the whole film. This parallel plot about bringing trees back and fighting evil capitalist O’Hare is just really half-hearted, like the film as a whole. The message – about protecting the environment and not chasing riches – is still a valid one, but it’s difficult to care when the film feels so lazy. The first and last songs, however, are still insanely catchy.
For a film that encourages us not to tolerate mass produced rubbish, The Lorax should not be as cynical and as bland as the products it scorns.
Extras: Short doc in which the cast and crew express their love of Dr. Seuss, deleted scene, a half-hearted game and some drawing lessons from a rather endearing animator. You, too, can draw a Barbaloot!