Hollywood you owe Theodore Geisel an apology. The man otherwise known as Dr. Seuss has been injured by Hollywood. Injuries that I don’t know if his work will ever recover from. At best his legacy is severely tarnished by the usually powerful art of movie making and it isn’t just one injury but 3 (could make an argument for 4 but I’ll go with 3).
If you live under a rock and don’t know who Dr Seuss is he wrote brilliant books of poetry for children with imaginative characters, worlds and even his own words thrown in. His only poetic contemporary might be Shel Silverstein but his poems were more grounded in reality than Seuss.
Most importantly there was always a message within Seuss but usually it was a subtle background to the poetry and creativity. It’s like the messages were an added bonus but not the sole focus on the story. This subtlety made the messaging all the more effective because it treated kids with respect.
Seuss believed children really weren’t that different from adults as far as reading and entertainment. He famously said “Children want the same things we want. To laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and to be delighted” I love that quote especially the to be challenged part.
Unfortunately all 4 of the Hollywood attempts to make a movie of Seuss’ work have failed to live up to these basic tenants for great storytelling. Horton Hears a Who is tolerable but the other 3 are loud, grotesque, unfunny with muddled to actually harmful messaging. The exact opposite of Seuss. It makes me sad. I’m going to review these 3 turds because I think all are emblematic of the worst of modern movies. I’m not sure when I will post all 3 but I will start today by reviewing The Lorax…ugh
People often ask me what the worst animated film I’ve seen is. In the short list are turkeys like 8 Crazy Nights, Fly me to the Moon, The Hero of Color City, and Mars Needs Moms. But none of these movies actually did damage to the legacy of an icon and taught the exact opposite message of the source material like the mediocrity of The Lorax. It takes the Seuss story about moderation and love for the earth’s resources and turns it into a story of corporate greed. Urgh…ticks me off!
In the book Seuss teaches about how a man named the Once-ler invents a product that requires him to cut down trees. He loves the trees which is part pf what inspires his invention. “All my life I’ve been searching for trees such as these”. They excite him and he comes up with something that will help people called a thneed.
The Lorax is kind of the patron saint of the trees and tells Once-ler to not chop them down. The Once-ler responds he is just going to chop down a few to make something useful and to help his relatives have jobs. It will be no big deal. Just a few trees.
Things of course get out of control “I meant no harm but bigger I got” The Lorax bemoans the loss of the swamp and the creatures and eventually they hear the last truffala tree get chopped.
And then the Lorax gives some lovely advice to our readers
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot nothing is going to get better. It’s not”
This isn’t a person without hope but it is exactly a person like the Once-ler where hope lies. We can all do something to make a change and make things better. We have too. We need too. It’s a cautionary tale about how the best of intentions can lead to great harm when not checked and when we don’t listen to our prophets and teachers. But we all care and can do ‘a lot’ so that things will ‘get better’ .
You see what a perfect message that is?
So what does the movie give us? Instead of a penitent Once-ler with a chance to regrow the trees we get an evil CEO who is literally selling air. He needs to keep the trees away so that he can get more money. It’s like President Business in Lego without any of the backstory of the father and the toys (or good writing, vocal performances or animation…).
The Once-ler has not made an invention that will help people and support his family. No, he’s making hats out of the truffula pods and sings about money in about a minute after our introduction…
None of the empowerment and subtley of the book. None of the message that all of us need to make changes to save our planet. None of a sense that we understood why the Once-ler did what he did. He’s just greedy and obsessed with the trappings of wealth, power and looking cool. Like a white collar crime we can look at it with disgust but feel no sense of personal introspection or desire to change.
On the poster we see proudly declared “from the creators of despicable me…” and this is so obvious in the movie. Everything from the color palate, to the character design, to the little fish who are groan-inducing copies of the minions without any of the charm or laughs.
Oh and did I mention we get the great voice talents of Taylor Swift and Zac Efron? They narrate the story unnecessarily (in the book there is a boy the Once-ler meets but no girl and not a part of the story). It’s the same problem I had with Home. Swift and Efron do not sound like children in the least and are so boring together. Swift’s Audrey is the manic pixie dream girl we’ve seen a million times and Efron’s Ted is a complete bore. Not to mention there are about a million ways the CEO could deal with these kids especially if he CONTROLS THE AIR! And yet he paints over Audrey’s drawings. Oh no! What a mean guy!
Betty White appears as the loveable old hoot grandma we’ve also seen a million times (often times by Betty White!). She’s cool because she dances and makes inappropriate comments at dinner. What a riot…It’s all so lame.
The music by John Powell is uninspired and for the preschool set only (and yet not really appropriate for kids that young when you think about messaging and style). I defy anyone to hum or sing any of the songs a day later? This is no Menken Ashman that’s for sure.
If I’m going to be positive I will say that it is bright and colorful and Danny Devito is fine as the Lorax but the script lets him down. He is just a grump instead of an advocate for nature. In the book we feel so sad that the Once-ler didn’t listen. It’s a tragedy with a ray of hope at the end. In this the Lorax is just an annoying little pest.
It depresses me to no end Seuss’ message of ‘unless someone like you” is completely lost in in this lazy uninspired movie. In fact, the exact opposite message is taught- “the environment? That’s other people’s problem. Rich people who own big companies problem”.
That’s the greatest sin of all. You could watch this with kids and I’d bet none of them would walk away wanting to plant a tree or do something good for the earth. They may hum a song or two or giggle at the fishes but my guess is in about a day they will have forgotten they have seen it.
Also I will say for a movie that does the whole ‘greedy CEO’ thing they sure were happy to pimp themselves out to Mazda, IHOP and a million other sponsors come movie time. It is the cherry on top of some of the most cynical movie-making I’ve seen. Let’s just make a buck any way we can!
Maybe that’s why the whole pollution angle of the book wasn’t really addressed? In the book the world of the Once-ler is gross with filthy water and air. In this movie the world with no plants or non-pumped in air looks pretty nice. In fact, they are singing songs about how great it is! Wouldn’t a world with no plants be disgusting? Not some kind of plastic paradise? Sigh…They should be ashamed of themselves.
Hollywood Seuss Strike 1