Tooncrap #15 - The Lorax

How bad can it be?  Pretty damn bad.
Universal Pictures: 2012

Written by: Raymond Gallant

I knew this was coming, I should just face the facts
I knew soon enough I would tackle the Lorax
Another film that found joy in abuse
of the great works of a legend named Seuss
Who gave us cats in hats, grinches, and creatures named who
Books that brought joy to me and maybe even you too
But the joy that we had for these books so good
Would soon catch the eye of lazy Hollywood
Whose creative bucket was ever so dry
that they just remake films instead of just try.
From a green Jim Carrey, to Mike Myers so crass
Who thought it was wise to give us cat ass?
Even in CGI the films were mediocre pap
And this film du jour is this week's edition of Tooncrap.
For the next Seuss book they took was of a creature so orange.
So... um... Dammit, nothing rhymes with Orange!

I know this one will probably be one that people will contend with me over, but honestly the 2012 adaptation of The Lorax is a bad film. Not just because it's an atrocious adaptation, or a fine example of everyone involved not practicing what the film preaches, but it just comes off as bland and forgettable.

So how do you take a story that even the original half hour special needed to pad out with songs? Let's find out as we review this thing.

We open our film with the titular Lorax who tells us that he speaks for the trees.

As well as gas guzzling SUVs.

He welcomes us to Thneedville, which is the main setting to our story. The town of Thneedville is a land where everything is fake and manufactured. From the trees, to the grass, to even the air. And everybody's fine with it. Thus begins a lot of the filler that never appeared in the original book.

I get it, it's a near 90 minute film, and the material needs to be expanded upon to make things matter to the audience. And to be fair, this is still better than a lot of the filler that befell The Cat in the Hat. But it's still nothing you really feel like you care about. And to make things worse, the film starts off with a song about how great the town is for being plastic and fake.

And honestly, that's kind of true. I mean, yeah, having no real nature sucks, but weirdly Thneedville is a town with little to no crime, and everyone is happy. The town seems to be doing great for itself, and you could at least say that this does provide more jobs for people. So yeah, hooray plastic land I guess.

We also get introduced to the villain of the movie by the name of Aloysius O'Hare (because, you know The Once-Ler couldn't just be the villain, since that was kind of the point of the book), who actually managed to find a way to sell air to people. Which I do have to say does make all that hooray stuff I was saying a bit dark. So, if you can't pay your air bill, do you get cut off, and have no other option but to suffocate and die? That's pretty dark when you think about it.

So after all that we're introduced to our protagonist Ted (voiced by Zac Effron). Ted is the boy from the actual book, who I always envisioned represented more the actual child reading the book than just being some random character needing to learn a lesson. But no, he has to be a character, who is in love with the girl next door, because that's what the Lorax was lacking, a forced love story.

His neighbor Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift) is obsessed with the stories of old about how the world used to have real trees. She even graffito tags the back of her house with them. She wants to see a real life tree. Ted, wanting nothing more than to finally gain the affection of Audrey, tries to get that tree for her.

And of course this film needs stereotypical comic relief characters like Ted's embarrassing mother who is a neat freak, as well as his wacky extreme grandmother who is of course voiced by Betty White. Grammy (As she's called) informs Ted of a man known as the Once-Ler, who knows where to find trees. So ted sets off to find where he lives.

While this is going down O'Hare is in the middle of a meeting with a pair of corporate stooges who try to convince him to make bottled air to go, with the belief that since the factory will make the air worse, it will mean more people will need air meaning more profits. This also feels like how the Lorax movie was pitched. Take a classic book, add CGI, trendy voices, and have the orange nugget endorse IHOP, and boom! Instant box office bucks. Which, sadly, proved to be true.
O'Hare gets the news that Ted has left the town, which is taboo since he doesn't want anyone to see that the world outside Thneedville is pretty messed up. Dead trees, smog, polluted water. It's a big mess. Ted continues his journey to find the Once-Ler, while dodging a bunch of situations that probably looked better in 3D.

Ted does eventually find the home of the Once-Ler, who is none too pleased that he's been found. However his mood changes when Ted mentions trees.

So the Once-ler tells Ted the story about how he destroyed all the trees. Now, I do like that the film has the Once-Ler in the shadows, and that you barely see him other than his arms. You see, I interpret the Once-ler to be a representation of mankind as a whole. It's why his face is barely seen, and all you get are his arms all covered in green.

That way, you can feel that it represents how mankind squandered the gifts mother nature have given us to mass produce stuff we don't honestly need. And it works more powerfully because you don't see his face. You don't give him a character, or even make him sympathetic. All you need to realize is that he's the villain, and that he's only going to see the error of his ways once he destroys everything. The Once-ler needs no personality.

But we can't have that in our 3D film. Heavens no. We have to make him a pretty boy with a guitar, a dream, and a donkey companion that is thankfully not voiced by Eddie Murphy. And that therein is why I really take an issue with this film. Giving the Once-ler his own character, and giving him a face ruins what made the character interesting to begin with. Making him likable despite the fact that he ends up ruining things conflicts heavily with the message of the book. And of course he's the only one of his family who believes in him, as they're all a bunch of jackasses.

He eventually makes it to the trullula trees, which are what he needs to make his thneed. After singing some more and making himself a general nuisance to the animals, and he eventually wins them over with marshmallows. He then cuts down one of the trees to supply his thneed need, but in doing so he awakened the forest's guardian...

Frank Reynolds

Well, close. It is indeed our titular orange potato man voiced by Danny DeVito. After paying tribute to the fallen tree, the Lorax is none too happy with the Once-ler's tree choppery. After some banter between the two, the Lorax makes it quite clear that he wants the Once-ler to leave. And how does he get the Once-ler to leave? To bad we have to sit through more of the other story before we can get that answer.

The Once-ler tells Ted to come back the next day to hear more because plot contrivance. After a few minutes of plot dragging, Ted tries to head back the next day to see the Once-ler. However, he's caught by O'Hare and his hired goons. O'Hare isn't too pleased with Ted's interest in bringing trees back to Thneedville since it would screw over his air business. And since he's the most powerful man in town, he has cameras everywhere. Insert NSA joke here.

But despite O'Hare's warning, Ted manages to make it back to the Once-ler to continue the story. After some unfunny dated pop culture jokes, we finally get back to the actual story of the Lorax. So, as I mentioned previously, since asking the Once-ler to leave didn't work, the Lorax decides to try the only other logical move...

Send the sumbitch up the river! So, by the Lorax's law, cut a tree, and we have no problem if your dumb ass drowns. But one of the Bar-ba-loots (the bears, which I don't recall the movie even referring them as), ends up stowing away on the bed of the Once-ler, screwing over the Lorax's plan. So, the animals end up rescuing the Once-ler and the bar-ba-loot. The Lorax tells the Once-ler again not to chop any more trees, and the Once-ler gives a promise that will obviously be broken very shortly

After having his privacy invaded by a bunch of animals that tried to drown him the previous night, the Once-ler shows the Lorax his creation of the Thneed, a piece of fabric that has a million uses. He tries to shill the product with a hip pop song, but it doesn't quite fly. He tosses away the Thneed and tells the Lorax that he failed.

But of course it turns out that the Thneed is a hit with the people, as they continue to sing the jingle of "Everybody needs a thneed". It's a forgettable pop song, but I will admit at least that it does a good enough job of selling the importance of the Thneed need. With success looming, the Once-ler calls his family as it already seems that the greed is getting to him.

Well, it's been a few minutes too many of the more interesting story, so back to Thneedville we go with Ted. It appears the douchery of O'Hare is becoming more apparent as he removes the art from Audrey's house, and places added precautions to ensure that Ted doesn't leave town. If only this wasn't just a large wall that could be jumped over if you were able to get on some really tall buildings. And of course, that's how it works. Honestly, this whole scene adds nothing to the story other than what we already know. Ted has the hots for Audrey, and O'Hare doesn't want Ted to find a way to get trees back.

Back to the other story, as the tranquil peace of the forest gets messed up as the Once-ler's family arrives. And of course, they're barbaric jackasses that were the motivating reason for the Once-ler to want to prove himself better. With his success, they suddenly care enough to want to help him in his thneed business. And with the success going to the Once-ler's head, along with his family feigning love, he breaks the promise to not harm another tree.

And with the evolution of the Once-ler's arrogance leads to the biggest song of the movie as he sings about how bad he can be. And I gotta admit, it's a pretty solid scene as we see just how bad he can be, as the truffula forest becomes completely ravaged. The song is more your mileage may vary, it's catchy in chorus, but its lyrics aren't all that strong. And in the end, while it works in the way this movie wants it to, I still prefer the speech in the original Lorax story, especially how it was worded out in the original special. As we see the Once-ler begin to see the errors of his ways, but with the more success there is, the less he cares.

"Now, you listen to me, Pop, while I blow my top! Trees? Ha! You speak for the trees? Well I speak for men, and human opportunities! For your information, you Lorax, I'm figgering on biggering and biggering, and biggering, and BIGGERING, turning MORE truffula trees into thneeds! Which everyone, everyone, EVERYONE NEEDS!"

In fact the entire scene with the factory and the destruction the Once-ler causes feels like it's built up better in the special. In the movie, it feels like they rush the motivations of his greed and evolution of his heel turn so fast that the destruction he causes doesn't digest well enough. Though maybe that would be less of an issue if the movie didn't feel it needed two storylines to fill in the 80 minutes. If the movie intended to turn the Once-ler from good to bad, then building his greed and his success and then setting up the downfall and destruction would have a bigger impact. But that's just how I look at it.

And the downfall does indeed come as the final truffula tree gets chopped down. The Thneeds become a thing of the past, as the air gets worse, which leads to O'Hare's idea to sell air.

The animals leave to find a new home and the Lorax lifts his ass to the heavens. The Once-ler's story is over, and he gives Ted the last Truffula seed for him to plant into town. And again, I know I'm complaining, but if it ended there, with that ambiguity, much like the book itself, it would still be a fair ending. Leaving a shred of feeling that Ted represents you the viewer and how it is up to you to make sure the world remains a place of green.
Too bad we have to go back to the other story though.

So, Ted brings the seed back to town, but O'Hare knows that he brought it back. So, it's up to Ted, his family, and Audrey to get the tree planted in the middle of town, as we get a long, and kind of bland chase scene that probably would have looked okay in 3D. They eventually make it to the middle of town, as O'Hare convinces the town to destroy the seed, since their living conditions could be jeopardized. But Ted breaks the wall down to reveal just how shitty things have gotten, and they change their minds.

And of course it's through another peppy pop song about how we have to let it grow.

GROW, not go.

The tree is planted, Ted gets his kiss, and the Once-ler leaves his house as the trees begin to grow once more. The Lorax comes back down from the heavens and all seems well for a happy ending.

The Lorax is a mixed bag for me. This is definitely a better movie than most I've reviewed, with great animation, solid voice work, and when it wants to, it does try to be faithful while expanding enough of the source material. I know I complain about the changes to the book, and I do understand that movies based on book take massive liberties, and that if this was to fly it needed to give the Once-ler a face. One that most would want to see. And considering the fandom that he's gained since, I definitely see that.

But the film just feels really hollow. We get way too much of the forgettable plot involving Ted. Nothing from those scenes came off as entertaining. Not the characters, not the story within, not the comedy, or the action from the big chase scene by the end. It just feels forced and tacked on because the writers couldn't work the Lorax story on its own to an 80 minute film.

Which is a shame because despite being massively rushed, the Lorax parts of the story are the best parts. It feels like an emptier representation of the story, but for the most part it follows the book pretty well. Despite maybe having the Once-ler's road to becoming this evil narcissistic businessman feels extremely rushed. And yes, I can't get past the fact that this film with a heavy focus on environmental consciousness, has its mascot plastered on gas guzzling SUVs and other polluting products. It gives the film a festering scent of hypocrisy. And with that in mind, this film goes into Tooncrap. It's not the worst film, hell, it's better than 90% of what I have inducted, but in the end, it's just not that great.