Friday, March 02, 2012

3D CGI Suess On The Loose

DR. SUESS' THE LORAX (Dirs. Chris Renaid & Kyle Balda, 2012)

One of Dr. Seuss’ most enduring tales, “The Lorax,” gets the 3D CGI treatment by Illumination Entertainment in this film which successfully follows the formula that Blue Sky Studios used in 2008’s HORTON HEARS A WHO: hip celebrity voices (including a cast member from The Office), hyper-colorful visuals, zippy Ken Daurio /Cinco Paul screenplay, and a John Powell score.

As today is the 108th anniversary of Dr. Suess’ birth, directors Renaud and Balda (the duo behind DESPICABLE ME) posit THE LORAX as a tribute to the acclaimed author’s vision.

It works as such, but mainly when it sticks to the storyline and designs of Suess’ original 1971 book. When it veers into the flashy high speed chase scenarios that dominate its second half it loses a bit of its charm. However, that doesn’t sabotage its inventive intent and sense of fast paced fun.

In a clever, yet no-brainer, casting move, Danny Devito voices the title character – a small fuzzy orange creature with a bushy yellow mustache who speaks for the trees.

A young boy named Ted (another tribute to Dr. Suess as his full name was Theodor Seuss Geisel), voiced by Zac Efron, learns the tale of the Lorax when he ventures out of Thneed-Ville, a plastic and fake city that is devoid of any nature. Ted wants to give the present of an actual tree to a girl (Taylor Swift) he has a crush on, and his Grandmother (the always welcome Betty White) advises the boy to seek out somebody called the Once-ler.

The Once-ler (voice of Ed Helms) lives in a house out in the dark tree-less terrain that used to be part of a ginormous factory that chopped down every last “Truffula” tree for material to make “Thneeds,” a useless item of clothing that was a big seller to the folks of Thneed-Ville.

After failing to stop the Once-ler from destroying the environment, the Lorax sadly lifts himself up into the polluted sky in defeat in one of the film’s most affecting images.

There is hope though, in the form of the last Truffula seed that the Once-ler gives to Ted, but he has to contend with the newly created character of O’Hare (a loud Rob Riggle) - the film’s villain who made millions off selling bottled air and will stop at nothing to keep Thneed-Ville from going green.

Chaotic sequences revolving around making sure the seed is safe from O’Hare and his goons, recall the hubbub surrounding the fate of the tiny seedling plant in “WALL-E,” but the film’s infectious energy keeps it from feeling derivative.

DeVito’s raspy line readings wonderfully give the film a great comic edge, and provide a counter balance to the sing songy slickness of Efron and Helms’ vocal stylings. Speaking of sing-songy, Swift, in both her speaking and singing, crafts the most listenable musical work I’ve heard yet from the Grammy-winning Country artist.

I can’t remember a single melody of the songs themselves, written by British composer John Powell, but they breeze inoffensively by like the rest of the movie.

Although the anti-industry, pro-environmental message may be somewhat buried in all of the shiny spectacle, (don’t worry - Fox News is digging it up) THE LORAX is an above average kid’s movie that does right by Dr. Suess’ spirit with no heavy-handiness.

I also enjoyed that my 3 young nephews, who attended the screening with me, really ate it all up. Bet you and your kids will too.

More later...

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