Dawn.com Movie Review: The Lorax – by Kamran Jawaid

This review is the unedited version of “The Lorax”, now up at Dawn.com, at the URL parked at the end of the post. It was published March 14th, 2012.

The Lorax - Blog

Speaking For the Trees, a Little Too Obviously

By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid

When the title character, though secondary by way of the screenplay, says: “I am Lorax. I speak for the trees”, all one can do is groan — out loud. Although I have never come across “The Lorax”, which according to popularity is one of the lesser known works of Dr. Seuss, I am pretty sure this line is ported directly from the book – along with a lot of condiments, Hollywood “G–Rated” style.

There’s an instant animosity in my peers (read: film critics) for this adaptation; and for the most part I’d have to take their side. Producing an animated film, developed strictly on the barebones of a picture-book based on hammering the message of green-peace and conservation (with an equally, if not more obvious, anti-capitalist slant), the filmmakers have locked themselves inside a trunk with no room for movement.

Unlike Ryan Reynolds in “Buried” (as crude example in this situation), there’s no room for innovative prospects of survival.

Like Mr. Reynolds’ doomed character, there are a handful of plot devices “The Lorax” works into itself to appeal to the kiddie-mindset. Singing fish, who can survive just fine without water; Plush-mink, marshmallow eating teddy bears; The good, slightly bossy single-mom and the crafty white-haired granny (Betty White) – perhaps the only citizen in the storybook town of Thneedville (so named after its once-popular garment), who still remembers what actual trees looked like.

You see, Thneedville was once based on a prospering landscape overrun with Trufulla trees (think: cotton-candy growing on tree stumps) and blithe creatures of wilderness.

Then one day, Once-ler, an enterprising lad with capitalistic-tendencies, arrived with an idea of a haphazardly engineered garment called Thneed. Once-ler, like any innovator, thought that his product would sell like hotcakes. His idea lands with the thud of a televised home-shopping item. However, soon its lure is instantly picked up – en-masse.

Having heard of his immaculate luck, his opportunist (and genuinely evil) family, crashes into his life to pick up his cheques, ultimately creating a township named Thneedville.

The town is now a picture out of Peter Weir’s “The Truman Show”, with one exception: everyone here is playing Truman. Thneedville, though not on national television’s program schedule like Truman, is under similar surveillance by its current mayor Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle). No one is allowed outside the settlement’s huge walls.

O’ Hare is also Thneedville’s only millionaire. He makes his money by selling canned “air” – a good pun, by the way, by screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul.

Early in the movie, the film shows a vividly 3D advertisement of their canned air product. Playing as a cross between a soft-drink/blow dryer commercial, O’Hare’s marketing department tell him that their new version will have less potency with increased prices, which will boost sales. Their sale logic is impeccable. At that time I was misled into thinking that these animated characters had their marketing degrees from IBA.

Thneedville, of course, does not have any real trees. “Trees make free air”, O’Hare exclaims. They would put him out of business.

Ted, our enterprising 12 year (with the voice of Zach Efron), is in love with the teenaged Audrey (Taylor Swift) – a green peace gal herself, who wishes to see a real-life tree. Of course as the obliging lead, he sneaks outside the city – in “The Lorax’s” best Tim Burton-esque 3D escape sequence – to the fabled Once-ler, now old, living in seclusion from town, in remorse. He may know how Ted can get a tree.

The Once-ler (although why he’s hiding, instead of repenting by planting trees himself), flashbacks on the tale of the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a small, orange, slightly “annoying”, spirit of the forest, and how he tried to dissuade a young Once-ler into chopping down trees.

Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, and produced by Illumination Entertainment (makers of “Despicable Me”), “The Lorax’s” finest aspect, apart from its perky vibrant palette, are the songs by John Powell and Cinco Paul. Two of them – “How Bad Can I Be?” illustrating Once-ler’s descension into evil capitalism, and “Let it Grow” – being standout exceptions, better than anything this past Oscar race.

There’s a faux freshness in “The Lorax”. Most of it is, indeed, transparently makeshift and standard (even the 3D and direction). And even as the film loses its footing in the second half, it somehow comes out better looking than “The Cat in the Hat”.

The Lorax is distributed by Universal Pictures and Footprint Media. It is playing now in cinema’s across Pakistan in 3D.

The review at Dawn.com is at: http://www.dawn.com/2012/03/14/movie-review-the-lorax.html

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