Illumination Entertainment had a taste of success in 2010 with their hit Despicable Me and have returned this year with something completely different: a big screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. Seuss stories have not had a whole lot of success as feature films, with films like How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Cat In The Hat and Horton Hears A Who all receiving mixed to entirely bleak (Cat In The Hat) reception from critics and Seuss fans. Of the three, Horton Hears A Who probably came out the shiniest with the best end product, but with each book-to-film adaptation, the stories have had to be padded with all new material to flesh it out into a full-on feature film. Oftentimes this doesn't work so well, and for diehard fans of Seuss' work, The Lorax won't fair much better.
The Lorax book debuted in 1972 and contained the heart and basic plot of the film within its pages. However, fleshing the story out into an hour and a half calls for new characters to be introduced, from a girl that young Ted aims to impress to the town villain, O'Hare, who just wants to capitalize on providing a pristine world for the townsfolk to live in. Also, The Once-ler, who in the book only appears as gloved hands and eyes peering through wooden slats, is given a fully developed back story, and is revealed for all to see.
For anyone unfamiliar with The Lorax story (as, admittedly, I was upon viewing the film), the story can be seen as overtly preachy when it comes to the environment. The original Seuss book does involve a boy asking Once-ler why there are no trees and why the world has gotten so desolate, and the Once-ler does explain that it's because of the deforestation of their land. Personally, I agree (to a degree) that it's crucial to care for the land God has entrusted for us, but putting such a heavy-handed message into kids' entertainment feels preachy at best. At worst, it tries to inspire guilt in viewers for ever wanting to own anything made from tree products (which, you may be surprised, is a lot). And considering how most companies who cut down trees to make products actually plant new trees to replace them, it seems unfair to instill young viewers with the idea that cutting down trees and using the wood to make useful products is bad (That's not to say, however, that the "Thneed" in the film is all that needed or useful). Still, being mindful of our environment and giving back--and not just taking--are valuable lessons to consider. While I do think it all could have been handled in a more subtle or delicate way, the source material for the film (i.e. the original book) isn't very subtle at all.
With that said, the film is still relatively enjoyable. Director Chris Renaud (Despicable Me and the forthcoming Despicable Me 2) and company fill the story with cute forest characters with their own little personalities (the trio of fish are hysterical), and the brand of humor displayed in the story falls somewhere between Horton Hears A Who and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. There are plenty of instances of random humor, and it's those moments that propell the story forward well. However, once we get to the part of the plot where it all falls apart for The Once-ler, after he's cut down the last Truffula Tree, the humor is gone and the story picks up an overall more serious tone from then on (Even showing the animals in a grim and gloomy state seems pretty dark). Of course, things lighten up a bit by the film's end, but it's still more serious than when the story starts. The newly-created villain for the film's story, O'Hare, is not the kind of likeable villain that makes for some of the best stories. He resembles, greatly, a male version of Edna Mole from The Incredibles--from the bowl hair cut to the short stature, on down to the mannerisms--and hasn't got a redeemable bone in his wee little body. Meanwhile, other new characters like the Betty White-voiced grandmother of the protagonist, Ted, is creepy at times and amusing at others. She exists to support Ted in his quest, but she's definitely one of the more over-the-top characters here.
The film garners its rating of PG for "brief mild language," although no noticeable profanity is present (according to IMDB, O'Hare says "d*mn" at one point, but I didn't notice it. I rewatched the scene during the film's climax and he does seem to grunt out a "d*mmit," but it isn't very clear). However, there is plenty of name-calling that you can imagine for such a film (stuff like "idiot" and "numbskull"), and there's a good amount of dramatic, ominous moments in the film. Most of the latter come in the form of the desolate areas outside of Thneedsville's walls where The Once-ler resides. It's creepy and haunting, so some more sensitive little viewers may be afraid of that. Also, we see large vehicles with gigantic axes swinging from a long cone at the end of them--used for cutting down trees--that are shown intimidatingly (and in one scene, are lit pretty intensely). And some of the gags used in the film involve slapping or poking, or like in one scene, Once-ler carelessly tossing items out of the back of his wagon, which end up being sharp, lethal objects that narrowly miss harming nearby, on-looking woodland creatures. Overall, the tone of the film is definitely PG; I probably wouldn't recommend this movie for toddlers.
Overall, The Lorax is pretty fun family entertainment. The environmental message is just a bit too heavy-handed overall, stunting some of the enjoyment of the story, but with a strong voice cast and some good silly fun, The Lorax is a memorable tale.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/4/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
You can take home The Lorax in just about any medium - from 3D Blu-Ray to regular Blu-Ray, DVD and the usual on-demand digital retailers. The Blu-Ray combo pack includes a DVD and, not just the Ultraviolet, but also a digital copy you can load onto your portable devices. In addition to the feature film are the following extras:
Mini-Movies (11:57) - There are three mini-movies with a Play All option. The first one, "Wagon Ho!," features a couple of the bears playing with Once-ler's wagon, coaxing the mule to drive them by using a treat. "Forces of Nature" is a cute little short where The Lorax tries to intimidate Once-ler by scaring him with shadow puppets while he's trying to sleep. "Serenade" closes it out as a couple of the bears compete for the hand of a female bear by singing to her. Lastly, The Making of the Mini-Movies explains why they chose the little stories and how they came up with them (including the fact that some of them were ideas for the feature film story that didn't quite fit into the movie).
Deleted Scene (1:31) - The single deleted scene for The Lorax is a snippet omitted during the scene where The Once-ler's "Thneed" finally catches on as a success. It's cute, but was unnecessary and definitely worthy of being left out.
O'Hare TV (1:34:00) is a feature-length version of the film where occasional fake "O'Hare TV" commercials interrupt the film. Voice actor Jim Cummings (famous for voicing Winnie The Pooh, Tigger, and 90s Disney cartoon characters like Darkwing Duck and Bonkers) performs the commercial voiceovers here. The commercials can range anywhere from a commercial for tree lightbulb accessories to a fake food called "O'Delicious" (which comes in 38 flavors, including Broccoli and Sardines). You even get little gems from the O'Hare Shopping Network. It's a silly additional feature, but it's pretty amusing and adds to the randomness of the film's humor. This featurette also lengthens the film with nearly eight minutes of fake commercials.
Expedition of Truffula Valley - This is the classic interactive map featurette on a Blu-Ray disc that allows watchers to interact with the map and learn more about the film's characters and watch additional videos. For example, if you select one of the trees, you can see character profiles for Pipsqueak and Lou and then there are two videos related to them. The first is a how-to-draw Lou video, featuring one of the story artists. The second is a brief storyboard scene of the bears catching marshmallows in their mouths. You can also check out concept art and other neat production treats for all of the movie's main characters.
Once-ler's Wagon - This is a little interactive screen that shows items in Once-ler's Wagon on the ground. You can then select them and see little animations from the film involving those items. When you're done, you can select the icon of a boot, which calls over the Lorax to kick the wagon, spewing out different items for you to click on. It's all pretty short and pointless actually, but the kids might enjoy it.
Get Out of Town - This is a remote-based game where you can control Ted on his motor-unicycle to navigate through a side-scrolling game.
Truffula Run is another game where you can select from three different levels of difficulty in which you control The Lorax as he walks through a field collecting berries. You use your remote to direct The Lorax around tree stumps as he strolls to the finish line.
Seuss To Screen (4:27) - The voice cast and crew briefly talk about the source material and what it was like bringing the story to the big screen. It's a shame this wasn't longer and more in-depth, actually. It serves as the only main behind-the-scenes featurette and is ultimately just a tease.
"Let It Grow" Sing Along (3:42) - For fans of the film and its music, the electronic pop/dance song "Let It Grow" is isolated here as a sing along, complete with lyrics, as seen in the film's end credits.
Grow Your Own Truffula Tree - There's a little seedling icon at the bottom of the main menu. After you click on it once and then go explore the other Blu-Ray disc features, your seedling will sprout into a Truffula tree!
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/4/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: None, although Ted longs for Audrey's attention and they also share a brief kiss.
Vulgarity/Language: One possible use of "d*mmit."
Alcohol/Drugs: There's a commercial for bottled air called "O'Hare Air" and it's a spoof of beer commercials and even says "Breathe responsibly" at the end.
Violence: Ted drives through a dark scary forest with axes all over the place and one grazes his helmet. He then drives his unicycle off of a cliff and down a valley and back up the hill, swerving to regain control (and he's okay); Ted pushes a doorbell which reveals a big mallet that swings at him and hits a board near his feet, propelling him into the air. He is then kicked in the back with a large boot; A boy punches Once-ler in the arm and then a mule kicks the boy; The mule kicks Once-let's seat to wake him up; Once-ler accidentally hits a bear in the face with the neck of his guitar. He throws random objects out of his wagon and nearly hits several animals with swords and knives and such. They then get angry and lunge at him; Once-ler chops down a tree with an ax; A fish slaps another; Two birds bury their heads in the ground and then a bear tries to do the same thing and bounces his head off the ground; Once-ler drops the handle of an ax onto of a small bear; Once-ler pulls Ted up into the air and then drops him and kicks him with the boot again; In a daydream, Ted throws a glass containing an ice cream sundae and we hear it shatter off screen; Ted crashes his unicycle into an O'Hare bodyguard, who then takes a sip of air from a can and crushes it; Ted dives out of the way of Once-ler's mallet; A bed with Once-ler and a bear on it go through river rapids and so Lorax throws a boulder which hits the bed and propels them into the air. Lorax slaps Once-ler's face and then rubs two bears together as paddles to use to revive him. A bear still charged a bit shocks a fish; Lorax and Once-ler startle each other and then Lorax smacks Once-ler in the face; Once-ler is hit in the face with tomatoes a few times. A girl smashes his guitar. We see a nun punching a baseball glove waiting in line with others to throw things at Once-ler; A boy throws a bear like a ball and the other boy runs into a tree while trying to catch it. The bear catches onto the tree and lands on the boy's face. We then see them throwing the bear around again and one drops him while the other runs over him; A bird flies into a satellite dish; We see the boys running around swinging axes and cutting down the trees; Once-ler's aunt uses a pitchfork to block The Lorax and then picks him up and throw him; During a dance number, we see axes flying through the air and then a vehicle swinging large axes. We then see more shots of the vehicle with rotating blades chopping down trees; Ted throws his helmet at a cat-shaped security camera and then runs it over with his bike; An O'Hare truck pushes through traffic, knocking cars out of the way and Ted's mom's car skids to a halt at the end of a dead-end bridge; O'Hare crashes his face into his own truck's windshield; A skiier runs into a tree; A bunch of empty water jugs hit O'Hare in the face; O'Hare's vehicle crashes into a food trailer; Grammy pilots a tractor to dig up the ground and decapitates O'Hare's large golden statue; Ted drives a bulldozer through the wall to expose the tree-less devastation outside the city; Someone straps a rocket to O'Hare's head and he goes zipping away through the sky.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.