30 July 2012

THE LORAX- Review

There have been complaints about The Lorax from both ends of the political spectrum. To right-wingers, and particularly Fox News, this is an attempt to "green-wash" children's minds against big business, rather than the eco-conscious fable that Dr. Seuss intended. To left-wing and environmentally concerned sources, the environmental message is futile, in a market where this big, bright, colourful CG family feature has to be sold like a product, in conjunction with disposable nappies and even SUVs.

You didn't get these complaints about Ice Age 4, and for all of the howling indignation about this adaptation, which comes from Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind Despicable Me, I much preferred it to Fox's eco-disaster sequel. It takes place in the plastic town of Thneedville, where everything is manufactured and even fresh air is sold in plastic bottles. In a bid to impress a girl, young Ted ventures out into the devastated outside world and encounters the Once-ler, who tells him about trees, and the mystical creature who once protected them.

If you remember the reviews of Despicable Me, one of the most frequently mentioned things was the jab at Lehman Brothers, putting their sign above the door at a bank for evil people and supervillains. With that in mind, you wouldn't expect The Lorax to be quite as even-handed as it turns out. Even though Thneedville is the logical extreme of rampant commercialism, the film's troubles to explain how it got there, without making the Once-ler into an outright villain, balances it out a bit.

The kinda sorta villain song that is given to the Once-ler was, by far, my favourite part of this movie. Ed Helms voices the character, so he's given to little bursts of song in the same way as he is in the Hangover movies, but his big show-stopping number comes right from the Disney antagonist sheet music. The song itself, "How Bad Can I Be?", fleshes out the character's motivation- there's a menagerie of animals who befriend him before that point, and he's not necessarily destroying their habitat deliberately- without entirely demonising him. The Once-ler hasn't grasped the answer to that question himself, and the song even builds up, like any good musical polemic, to show how he's spiralling out of control.

Not for nothing, but I'm just saying that it's a really strong moment that's sort of diluted by the rest of the film. By encouraging moderation, rather than damning corporatism, it's really not falling on one side of the other. If that sounds wishy-washy, it's only because the side that is appeased by the film's open attitude towards business is also the side that insists global warming is a myth. So, accepting that such people can't learn anything from this, let's ask instead- will the young audience grasp its message? Happily, it's much more successful in this regard.

I can't disagree with anyone who argues that it should have been more insistent in some of its points, a la WALL-E, but I still feel it gets the point across. The least part of the film is probably the Lorax himself, given how his story is largely told in flashback, after there's no more trees for which he can speak. Danny DeVito lends his voice to the character, and does a good job of fleshing him out as a cute, grumpy little bastard, but the film places more focus upon the animals, echoing Despicable Me's reliance on the Minion characters. All the same, the Lorax and friends make more of an impact than the present day storyline in Thneedville, which is all too easy to forget while the flashbacks are going on.

The Lorax should resonate with some kids, but for all the hand-wringing by the right wing, perhaps its biggest flaw is that it never feels like it's actually going to change anybody's life. It speaks for the trees, however softly, and its heart is absolutely in the right place. The animation is bright and colourful, the world is imaginative and well-rounded, and there's at least one cracking musical number, but as with Illumination's previous film, cute and forgettable is the order of the day.

The Lorax is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Ice Age: Continental Drift, why not share your comments below? And seriously, sod The Grinch- every Dr. Seuss book was really about a political agenda.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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