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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX (Three Stars)
U.S.: Chris Renaud/Kyle Balda, 2012



Al long time ago, back in ’71. In a season of tumult and fear,
The good Dr. Seuss, with his pen wild and loose,
Wrote a book called “The Lorax,” we  hear.

It was all about greed , about Oncelers and thneeds,
About  chopping down Truffula trees
About spoiling the earth, swapping all of its worth
For some loot and a land full of “Mes.”

Ah Seuss, you’re a treasure! A yarn-smith past measure.
You’re a wizard  of satire and glee!
Your Lor-ax is a beaut! It’s a gem. It’s a hoot.
It’s a love song to all threatened trees!

For some people love nature and some people don’t
And some congressmen don’t care at all.
But the Good Dr. Seuss got us totally juiced!
Gave  a hug to the trees one and all.

Well, many more, double-score, long years have passed
And the Doc isn’t here any more.
But his book still amuses us, wows us and woozes us.
Settles those anti-Earth scores.

And that wonderful tome, that great Seussian pome,
With its message of gloom, doom and hope
Is now up on the screen, a real CGI dream…
So why do you feel like a dope?

Why does the cast seem like green eggs and ham? Why are the songs slightly gooey?
What is Ed Helms here? A hung-over Onceler? Why does the end go ker-flooey?
Is Danny DeVito — a perfect Seuss voice guy — a Lorax or just one more Louie?
And check out Zac Efron, getting Swift with Ms. Taylor, but sounding like Huey or Dewey.

It isn’t as if this show were a bomb. It’s made by intelligent guys.
They know how to shoot. They think Seuss is a toot, They love trees and they love cracking wise.
Cinco Paul, and Ken Daurio, and Chris Renau-rio, the gang from  Despicable Me:
Well,  maybe their flick is too big and too cheery-o: a Slightly Disposable Spree.

You see, Seussian stories, in all their wry glory, work best when they’re gentle and spry.
And the recent parade of  big movie charades makes them seem kind of  bloated and dry.
The show means to please kids though, and please them it will. And I’ll drop a political hint:
I’d rather be lectured by Seuss and Obama, than bored by Santorum and Mint.

For some people love trees and some people don’t.
And some congressmen don’t care at  all,
But the Good Dr. Seuss got us totally juiced.
Give  a hug to his Lorax, you all!

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a big bouncy computerized cartoon feature with its heart in the right place about nature and resources and how important it is to shepherd them in the right ways — and how important it is not to let greed and selfishness and the lust for money and exploitation of those resources set the agendas, blight the landscapes and ravage the earth. (I wouldn’t think those would be controversial positions, but apparently they are.)

It’s a good movie that should have been better. But The Lorax’s wit and liveliness and sometimes magical visuals — not to ment6ion Danny De Vito‘s gently boisterous voice performance as The Lorax –.are  undermined by the sheer scale of the project  and it’s sometimes overbearing treatment and style, which make the whole show entertaining but a little too techno-heavy, predictable and CGI slap-happy for its own good.

I havent seen the 1972 cartoon version — the shorter, less expensive one directed by Hawley Pratt and narrated by Eddie Albert— but I’m sure t would have been more congenial. “The Lorax” is a story that cries out for a gentler, more lyrictal, more modest approach, cries out for more Seussian rhymed narration. The book, first published in 1971, was another of Dr. Seuss’ delightfully rhymed and rhythmed storybook fables with their big, goofy drawings of mythological Seuss-beasts and of small boys or creatures (often named Bartholomew) who fought the good fights or hatched the good eggs (Horton  the Elephant, of course), and learned lessons about life as they skittered over the rhymes and Seuss-creatures and silly names on each spacious page.

“The Lorax” was probably the most obviously political of all Seuss’s books; an undisguised ecological fable  that attacks mean corporate types (like the Once-ler) — the story’s reckless, greedy  ‘job-creator who strips the land and chops down the Truffula Trees and their gorgeous little tufts to make the highly sable miracle item, the thneeds. (Imagine them telemarketed on cable.) The Once-ler and his minions and machines keep chopping and chopping until the very last Truffula Tree is chopped down, and the landscape has become a desolate , smoggy wasteland, with the Onceler left to lament his misdeeds and mis-thneeds.

It’s also about the Lorax, a prescient feisty little mutton-chopped chap, with a fuzzy face who “speaks for the trees,” and warned the Once-ler that what he was doing was wrong. A perfect part for the movie’s Danny De Vito, who was born to read Seuss –even if I expected more.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is unabashedly political and pro-ecology and that’s what makes it controversial, I guess. But the movie, which is big and overblown (even IMAXed). isn’t really as bad as its nay-sayers say, including the kind of right-wing hipsters who think Happy Feet Two was a plot.

Dr. Seuss was also known as Theodore Geisel; Efron’s Ted and Taylor Swift’s Audrey, the teen-dream lovers of the movie, are a tribute to Ted Geisel and his wife Audrey. And Seuss, or Ted, sometimes called “The Lorax” his favorite book. (I prefer “Horton Hatches the Egg.“) This is not the best Dr. Seuss movie. (That remains Chuck Jones’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.) But you’d be wrong to deprive your kids of seeing it. Just make sure you get them the original book though — which is the one Lorax marketing tie-in you really shouldn’t ignore.

One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax”

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin