Sunday, March 25, 2012

And now I shall speak for the trees...

Just felt like bringing this up. It's very rare that something makes a REALLY good first impression on you. Rarely does a trailer ever get me super hyped to see a movie unless it's a trailer for a film I'd already heard about and was already looking forward to before the first teaser even came out.  However, as of recently, there has been something I've been dying to see ever since the first trailer.
It actually got me really interested in seeing how it's going to be. That trailer is: 

"The Lorax" has always been a great story by Dr Seuss, and one of the few heavy handed environmental message stories that I actually found meaningful and well played. Now this trailer comes out, with mixed reactions from many people, especially those who love the book. Personally, 
I think this first trailer was brilliant. When it opens, you literally have no idea what the movie is based on or what story it's telling. It seems like just your average CG animated kids' movie about teenage kids living in this strange, otherworldly neighborhood. Zac Efron voices the boy, which is good since 
I already know he has talent and the more that breaks him away from "High School Musical" the better, and Taylor Swift voices the girl he has a crush on. Taylor Swift is an incredibly talented singer but I'm not so certain about her acting skills, but from what I hear of her here, she does a good, cute "hippy like" voice for this character. Then the girl shows off her painting of bizzare looking "trees", which supposedly don't grow anymore so she's never really "seen" one. At this point, I'm thinking "Wait, is this....nah, couldn't be." 

Then the boy asks his family where he could find anything on trees in order to impress his crush. Cut to him riding his scooter down a dark and spooky mountainous road, with "Beware, Danger, Stay Out!" signs posted on the side. Now I'm like "Ho-ly shit, is is!" a second before Dr Seuss' name even shows up on the screen and we see the Once-ler's creepy Lurkin tower. 

Apparently, Once-ler does not like visitors and has set traps that nearly kill the boy. Immediately, the awesome sounding song ("Light and Day") kicks into high gear as the Seuss style images fully rendered in 3D come onto the screen. We see the Lorax's woodland home, the creatures that inhabit it, a young Once-ler voiced by Ed Helms arriving and chopping down his first tree, and then the Lorax shows up...with the voice of Danny Devito.  When Jim Carrey was cast as Horton back in the CGI "Horton Hears A Who" movie, I had my doubts but he turned out to be great in the role. (Though I will always say that Will Ferrel would've been better.) With this, though, there was no doubt in my mind; this is perfect casting. Devito's voice somehow fits the Lorax's short, stubby, hairy design perfectly. We then see more images flash by, including a brief shot of Old Man Once-ler reaching out his window, grabbing at Zac Efron's character. And I'm thinking "What the hell is he?"  From what little we can make out, he has yellow eyes, hair all over his face, and long green gloves on. It freaked me out a little the first time I saw it. Appropriately enough, the trailer ends on the only genuinely hilarious joke in it, made funny by Danny Devito's delivery of the Lorax's utterly sincere confusion. We hear "Reach for the SUN!" one last time, and I'm sold.

I hear that the story's been altered a good deal. Well, that was obvious. A lot of purists still don't seem to grasp that no short story can be adapted as a full length movie without adding new stuff in. The stuff that's here seems promising. We have Thneedsville as a nice, happy place where everything is artificial and nobody can ever leave due to some sort of government conspiracy, the lead boy and girl and their families getting involved somehow, and the main villain named O'hare, who apparently started off a canned air salesman and is supposedly the devil with whom Once-ler makes a deal in the backstory. The biggest change is that we're going to see what happens after the boy gets the seed from Once-ler. That's going to be interesting. The movie's outcome could be made or broken depending on how this is all used. I, for one, am definitely looking forward to seeing it in March. Once I have, I'll write up a review to sum up my thoughts. 

Alright, I promised I would give my review of "The Lorax" once I'd seen it, and now I have. Let's go:

Books by Dr. Seuss have always had great half-hour cartoon adaptations. But when it comes to Hollywood, I think the quality has varied due to the big changes that had to be made to the material. We've had "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" (which I thought was good), "The Cat In The Hat" (which was awful), "Horton Hears A Who!" (which was okay) and now, "The Lorax", which, like "The Grinch", I thought was good. Oddly enough, these two movies have a divided reaction among critics. You either love 'em or hate 'em. Personally, I really liked this movie. I had expectations set for it after the first trailer and I received exactly what I expected: a good, fun movie based on a great story. Now for this overview of my reception towards the film, I'll list what I liked and disliked about overall:


- The computer animation in this movie looks fantastic. The town, the environment, the creatures, the people, and even the objects look distinctly Seuss-like. 

- The musical score and songs were great, too. Especially the Once-ler's Villain Song, "How Bad Can I Be?". All pieces of music in this movie set the moods perfectly.

- I liked the characters of Ted, Audrey, and Grammy. They all played their roles well and their voice actors made them very likable. I was actually impressed to see Ted go from someone who was only "interested" in trees just to impress his dream girl to a young hero who genuinely cared about carrying out the Once-ler and Lorax's wishes. Audrey was really pretty and cute, and I liked that despite her obligatory love interest role, she wasn't really interested in "love" and was instead dreaming about seeing real, natural trees, and only fell in love with Ted once he learned to really care. And Grammy was awesome: Ted and Audrey even say as much!

- I loved this take on the Once-ler. He was hands down the best character in the film. I really enjoyed Ed Helms' performance as both young and old Once-ler, and loved seeing him go from good natured young aspiring businessman to a friend to the Lorax and all the forest critters to a ruthless, uncaring business tycoon bent on "biggering" his empire at the cost of the environment, to a broken, regretful, reclusive if not slightly looney old hermit who helps Ted realize his destiny. He was funny, charming, and likable, inconsiderate and despicable, and very sympathetic all at once. I also actually loved the expansion on his motivations of wanting to make his family proud of him, even though his family was a bunch of reprehensible hicks, and how in the end, his brotherhood ("bromance") with the Lorax ended up more important and fulfilling for him. Made especially blatant in that last scene. D'aaaw.

- I also loved the Lorax, how he spoke for the trees, how he was sort of a grouchy extremist jerk with a heart of gold who still tried to be as reasonable as he could, and Danny Devito as his voice.

- I really loved the story and how it was ultimately handled. When it was faithful to the book, it was REALLY faithful to the book. But when it went on it's own, it was still really engaging. I loved the disturbing idea of a civilization that's secluded and walled from the outside world and everything is fabricated, I loved the "bottled air", I loved how the unnamed boy from the book was made into the protagonist character, I loved that the backstory telling was divided into three trips to the Once-ler's place rather than one, I loved the added scenarios to the backstory (like the marshmallow bit and the floating bed bit), I loved the pragmatic changes (like the people NOT immediately buying into the Thneed BS when Once-ler first starts selling it, and the Villain Song being used as a montage song), and I loved the ultimate resolution, similarities to "Wall-E" that preceded it be damned. And I thought the serious, emotional bits were really effective. I was close to getting choked up at the last scene between the Once-ler and Lorax, and when the book quote from Dr Suess came on screen...damn.


- C'mon, guys, you don't have to be ashamed of Seussisms.  Put some more in!  "Truffula Trees" isn't said as often, and words like "Grickle Grass", "Lurkin", "gruvelous gloves", "whispermaphone", " super axehacker" and various others are omitted entirely. 

- I know that the people who made this made this also made "Despicable Me" but God, they really could've cut down on making the critters act like the Minions! I mean, the studio logo bit at the start of the movie showing a Barbaloot Bear falling on top of a Minion should have clued me in for what I was in for, but still...

- The main villain, Mr. O'Hare, was really overplayed. And he was also lame. VERY lame I mean, I got the idea behind him and know why he had to be here, but he really grated on my nerves after awhile. His Edna Mode-esque design, short stature, loud and obnoxious voice, and the fact that he was a flat stock cooperate villain purely motivated by greed. Worse is that he knew damn well he was polluting and didn't care so long as he got profit: heck, he even seemed to get off on being an evil slimeball, like a Captain Planet villain! That kind of sends the wrong message: Once-ler is a great antagonist because his villainy comes from the human flaws of being careless and ignorant. Rarely ever in real life are there just these megalomaniacs who deliberately pollute for profit and go through over-the-top villainous lengths to stop anyone from planting so much as one real seed. And I was disappointed in how he wasn't in any way connected to the Once-ler's story like I initially thought he would be. Nope, he was just some diminutive geek who took Once-ler's Thneeds business and designs for Thneedville for himself and completely took over. It would have been more interesting if he had been an old employee of Once-ler's. That would mean they'd have to age him up in the present time, but y'know what? He'd probably be more interesting that way! As he is, though, he's annoying, he's boring, and really weighs the whole thing down. At least his eventual comeuppance was satisfying, but only because I hated him and not for the right reasons.

- There were several blatant moments where the "3D" gimmick was clearly meant to be used. I am so sick of 3D. Why can't movies be made without that shit being shoe-horned in? Though I did love the "Ted on his scooter" sequences, especially when he actually made use of the weird Seuss-like structures to go around them. But did those sequences really need 3D?  Did they?

- I didn't really like Ted's mother. She only did one redeeming thing during the climax but other than that, she didn't seem all that much better than Once-ler's mama!

- And while I liked how the Villain Song was used as a montage before we cut to the dark wasteland the Truffula Valley has become, I really wish there had been a little bit more Lorax vs Once-ler conflict after that because instead we immediately get the final confrontation before the last tree is chopped down. I understood why the animals all had to leave at the same time as opposed to one after another like in the book, and it even made for a nice scene where Once-ler's mule and "teddy bear" turn their backs on him, I really would've liked to see the Lorax point out the exact effects of what Once-ler's business venture has been doing to the environment and its' inhabitants. This conflict took up most of the book's story and I felt it was really lousy for so much of it to get cut.

But overall, I really enjoyed the movie. It was silly alot of the times, but you have to expect that from Dr. Seuss movies and Dr. Seuss in general, and the environmental message that mattered was still kept and delivered in a satisfactory, even moving way. In fact, after I left that theater and drove back home to my neighborhood, I really took in my surroundings and looked around at the sunshine, blue sky, grass, and trees. I really appreciated the natural beauty. It really is a lovely world we have, and UNLESS...unless we stop being selfish and foolhardy, unless we do things to help preserve its' beauty and really lift a finger to clean up the man-made trash that pollutes the earth, things really won't get better. They won't. They'll just keep getting worse until we lose all of God's gifts that we used to have. That's something Theodore "Ted" Seuss Geisel realized when he wrote "The Lorax" and I'm glad that the message can be heard by a modern generation now. In their hands, and ours, and mine, hopefully we can keep the world a life-filled, beautiful, and wonderful place to live in.

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