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Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax—movie review

by Leonard Maltin
March 2, 2012 1:00 AM
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Have you noticed that (as often as not) when Hollywood moviemakers stray from their source material they insist on putting the author’s name above the title? To me, this only compounds the offense. No author has suffered more at the hands of Hollywood in recent years than Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The man who brightened my childhood, and my daughter’s, with his clever verse, fanciful drawings, and vivid imagination has been pummeled by such overblown productions as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and (even worse)The Cat in the Hat. Now comes The Lorax, a bright, shiny 3-D animated film from the team that made its reputation with the unpretentious feature Despicable Me.

The Lorax was Dr. Seuss’ most serious work, as it conveyed an ecological message to youngsters and their parents. The message remains intact in this adaptation, by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, but it’s almost smothered by extraneous story material and characters. Directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda have filled every scene with funny-looking (or sounding) characters, sight gags, and one-liners to provide constant distraction. This might work as a diversion for younger kids, but there is no sign of the wit or wisdom of Dr. Seuss.

The story, about a boy who lives in a plastic city and goes in search of a genuine tree, meanders far and wide. That’s because, like other Seussian adaptations, this one takes a slender book and arbitrarily expands it to feature length. When the DePatie-Freleng animation studio adapted The Lorax for television forty years ago, it ran just under a half-hour, which didn’t require all that padding.

The songs, by screenwriter Paul and composer John Powell, are odd and unmemorable, except for the summing-up number “Let it Grow,” which ends the picture.

Theodore Geisel counted on the bond of trust he had built with his readers to offer a thoughtful and timely message. The people behind this forgettable film are merely trading on the author’s deep reserve of goodwill.

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  • mike | March 4, 2012 2:37 PMReply

    Pure environmental propaganda expressed thru animation.

  • EBL | March 3, 2012 9:45 PMReply I give it a C+. I am a big Seuss fan and like the Lorax book and the Chuck Jones cartoon, but this was way too preachy and frankly not as good as the original. I though the animation was good from a technical view point (the trees did look rather snuggly) but the plot pacing was not well done.

  • Ben Geiger | March 3, 2012 9:15 PMReply

    For the entire history of mankind, most humans have lived in poverty with no freedom. In 200 years of capitalism, the average person has gone from a 35 year life expectancy to a 75 year life expectancy, enjoyed electricity, average of 2 cars and 2 television sets, elimination of most plegues, etc. I appluad capitalists for a longer and higher quality life.
    Its a disgrace to teach our children that the heroes who have improved our lives are evil. Capitalism does not create problems, it fixes them. In capitalism, you make money by solving problems. That is why we have more trees in the U.S. now than before the industrial revolution.

  • Iago | April 16, 2012 4:27 PM

    ... of the world cityzien in the XXI century. It's easy and confortable to take the rest of the world as we take ourselves, but c'mon, it's not worth lying once you believe in the truth. A HUGE quantity of people will never see a TV or have a car in theirs lifetime. I know so because I look for these people and get to know them and I live in the country with the 5th bigger economy in the world, I wonder what I'd do if I lived in Senegal.

  • Iago | April 16, 2012 4:18 PM

    It's interesting how can't you see that even on theory capitalism points to destruction. Please, I ask you to open your eyes and look to the world beyond the US. There are NOT as trees as before the industrial revoluction. Besides, this called "quality of life" can't be considered unless the whole humanity has the same chance to be living until 75 years old, using eletricy and even to have those TV's or cars' numbers, which is pure illusional. I refuse to deny capitalism's importance is men's history, but it's time to go further. Life is better and easier for you, but you are not a retract

  • cadavra replying to ben and david | April 10, 2012 6:24 PM

    You're both missing the forest for the trees (pun intended). It's not anti-capitalism per se. Capitalism in theory is fine; it worked wonders in the middle third of the 20th Century. The problem is Greed. Cutting down a few trees would not in itself be harmful, but the Once-ler cut down ALL the trees, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ball game. In the old days, captains of industry like the Rockefellers, Roosevelts and Kennedys poured much of their wealth back into production and services, creating more jobs and more good and services for people to buy, thus keeping the money moving. Today's billionaires, like the Koch Brothers (combined net worth: $50 billion), merely sit on that vast pile of wealth, spending just enough of it to keep the GOP in power lest they have to pay their fair share in taxes. Mitt Romney's signal achievement in the private sector was being part of a financial organization that destroyed companies and threw countless thousands out of work. That is NOT capitalism; it's robber-baronism, and it's why we're up to our keisters in debt.

  • David Responding to Ben's Reply | March 5, 2012 1:19 AM

    Thank you for your response Ben. Firstly, it is important to note that the movie is a complete and utter disgrace. Please know that my comments are in relation to the book (which has been a personal favourite since childhood). Few people familiar with ecology or capitalism would ever suggest that cutting down one tree is problematic, nor would they suggest that capitalism's aim is to deforest the world. I try as best I can be an objective, evidence based thinker and the evidence on environmental issues is compelling to me. It seems to me that the free capitalist market undervalues the seemingly free ecological services provided by nature and is generally uninformed about the science behind them. For example, in many cases and places in the world a cut down old growth tree has more monetary value than one still standing. This is not necessarily a flaw in the capitalist system as much as it is a consequence of the dominant mentalities possessed by those who apply valuation in capitalism. For example, the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic visually illustrates the power of our differential valuation of nature. When profits are to be made at the expense of ecosystem health the evidence seems clear that more often than not we choose profits. I have already provided you with a laundry list of environmental issues that are dramatic, urgent and global. If you are not convinced, you may want to investigate even more issues such as the accumulation of floating (mostly plastic) wastes in the Pacific Ocean, the global bleaching of corals leading to ecosystem collapse in the most important and diverse aquatic ecosystems on earth, the contamination of critically important shared watersheds, the exploitation of the Athabasca oil sands reserves, and as I stated before, the list goes on and on and on. Though I currently have no children asside from the students I teach, I plan one day to teach them that balance is hard to achieve in all aspects of life and that sometimes the pursuit of money can lead unwittingly or even knowingly to the destruction of the very things we need and value most. There is no doubt that humans have the capacity to do better under the premise of capitalism, but the bottom line is that UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better... it's not.

  • Ben responding to David | March 4, 2012 9:50 PM

    A sneed is representative of human needs to survive. The movie plot pretends that quaility of life for humans is the same before sneeds are invented. In reality, human life was mostly miserable and short before freedom/capitalism. It is not in the best interest of capitalism to cut down all of the trees. The logging corporations have been reforesting the areas they cut for over 100 years. Trees are a renuable resource. When the song "how bad can I be" is used in the movie, it implies that even cutting down one tree in the name of improved life for humans is bad. That is pure propaganda. Do you think cutting down trees is evil? I don't know any capitalists who think we should cut down all of the trees in the world as the movie depicts. Your point of view implies that humans are mearly an unitentional parasite to an otherwise perfect planet. With that point of view, you are telling children that they are evil to the planet by being alive and consuming sneeds to stay alive.

  • David Kleiman | March 4, 2012 12:52 PM

    Ben, I sincerely hope you have read the Lorax and encourage you to reread it once I offer you my interpretation of one of the main themes of this book. I believe that Seuss was trying to say that the capitalist mentality of ever expanding business and industry in the name of improved quality of life has actually eroded the very capital on which it depends. While the Onceler starts small and feels productive and helpful, eventually the necessity of expanding his business results in the destruction of the nature which sustained his business AND all forms of life. His pursuit of improving lives ultimately and predictably was a short term phenomenon. Worse still, the error of his ways was only clear to him once it was too late and the environment was already degraded beyond repair.

    Through extensively studying environmental issues throughout my adult life, to me it seems likely that Seuss' predictions are coming true. The expansion of human exploitation of nature is already eroding natural resources at rates far greater than they are able to replace themselves. It is generally agreed upon that over 90% of the ocean fish populations of the large fish that we like to eat have already collapsed and are dangerously close to disappearing entirely; The worlds fertile land is nearly saturated with farms and is be being degraded by overuse of fertilizers and pesticides; The world's old growth forests are being deforested at shockingly rapid rates and list goes on. Most biologists agree that today that we are experiencing a rate of species extinction that far exceeds the extinction rates of anything seen in our 2.5 billion year fossil record. All of this and I haven't even mentioned the possibility of climate climate change in the future.

    This is not to say that capitalism or those who pursue wealth and/or the improvement of the quality of life for humans are "evil". The questions about how to meet our needs without compromising the very things that sustain us are complex questions that warrant open minded and urgent discussion. Seuss tries to point parents and kids towards this important self reflection and I encourage you to do the same.

  • Martin | March 3, 2012 2:20 PMReply

    The story was transparent and its political message was straigh from Obama's re-election campaign. Busness evil, rich evil, enviromental worship good. You know the paper industry plants more trees in a year than all the liberal put together. Why don't you tree huggers give up your houses and cars and COMPUTER and go live in caves. The producers of this are hypocrits and that is the worst part, kill thousands of trees to make, distribute and present this movie and make millions at it at the same time hmmm, maybe it was actually produced by O'Hare industries.

  • Jacob Sackin | March 3, 2012 1:12 PMReply

    The saddest thing about all the bad reviews journalists are writing about The Lorax movie is that none of them seem to provide any alternate ideas for how the plot of the movie could have been better, or for how the new story and old story could have been weaved together in a better pattern, they just bash the fact that the movie has corporate movie elements, like 3D roller coaster river rides and that it markets 70 products.

    The parable of people living in a plastic, treeless world because of the oncler's greed when he was a teenager out to prove himself, is a great one for kids in 2012. The whole movie is just a fun, creative buildup to how things got the way they were in the beginning of the Lorax book, and an introduction to what could have been the next two pages of the The Lorax book, had Dr. Suess chosen to end it by taking the book to its natural conclusion: The last truffula seed is planted by the boy, trees start to grow again, and finally The Lorax and his friends come back. The movie also does a good job showing that those people behind the green faceless gloves are just normal people like you and me, hungry to buy up the newest i-something that come onto the scene.

    Of course there could have been more gloppity glop and schluppity schlup, showing the building of the factory and what the pollution was doing to the humming fish and their friends; it also would have been interesting to see if the people returned to their plastic world after planting all the truffula trees, and if they dug up their plastic lawns and electronic flowers and changed their lives. But the movie intertwined the new narrative with snippets from the book flawlessly at times, even some of the rhymes, and it was great to finally see the Lorax and the old oncler finally hug and move on with their lives.

    It feels to me like journalists are eager to trash the movie version of the book simply to seem more like a die hard fan of the book, like someone complaining about Dylan going electric in order to prove him or herself a folk music enthusiast. As for marketing 70 products, marketing is the way to get your product out there, good ones as well as bad, and I think that Dr. Suess would have been happy, for the number of people in the world who will now know about The Lorax is only going to keep biggering and biggering. And maybe one of those people will come up with the sequel to the Lorax movie and figure out how the people in thneedville can combine their new love for actual photosynthesizing trees with their dependance on plastic, electronic crap.

  • Norm | March 3, 2012 12:17 AMReply

    Disconcerting discourteous disconnected is obvious todays writers just don't get it ..They don't understand the writing of a superior Author...Which speakes volumes of the chasm of the generational divide...Maybe they just don't have the discipline or morals to "get" it...Hopefully , one day they may read a book that shows them the beauty and influence of the language of Theodore Geisel..How about "Green Eggs & Ham..."...Sam......I am...

  • Howard Freeman | March 3, 2012 6:51 PM

    Def nowhere near either as true to text nor as fun as movie version as "Horton Hears a Who." And, a reviewer's job is not to suggest edits on movie. They merely critique on strengths and weaknesses, and they discuss how well the film makers carried out their vision.

  • Tony McCarson | March 2, 2012 11:08 PMReply

    "Horton Hears a Who (2008)" is a better movie adaption of Dr. Seuss than the movie versions of the Grinch (2000), the Cat in the Hat (2003), & the Lorax (2012).

  • CMurnane | March 2, 2012 7:33 PMReply

    We just finished seeing this film. I am sad that it had none of the whimsical magic that his stories did. Please, do not go see it. It is not worth your money

  • gary meyer | March 2, 2012 3:52 PMReply

    At least we still have THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR. T, Chuck Jones' wonderful half hour films, Ralph Bakshi's surprisingly good THE BUTTER BATTLE BOOK, the most unusual Russian short WELCOME and the delightful shorts made by George Pal and Warner Brothers (including the Snafu series) plus of course the UPA GERALD McBOING BOING series.

    But since his death it feels like:

    “I meant no harm.
    I most truly did not.
    But I had to grow bigger.
    So bigger I got.”

    But bigger is not necessarily better.

    Next we have a biopic with Johnny Depp playing Theodor Geisel. He did pretty well as J.M Barrie so let's hope it is interesting.

  • christine lavin | March 2, 2012 2:24 AMReply

    While he was alive Ted Geisel had strict quality control over his work and his characters. It is shameful what his heirs have allowed to happen to his work. I know his widow justifies it by saying, "I didn't want his work to be forgotten so I let them do this," but his books WON'T be forgotten.

    Hopefully, films like this will be.

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