Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was responsible for creating some of the most endearing characters and writing some of the most beloved children’s stories of the 20th century. His use of rhyme, repetition, and trisyllabic meter gave his books a distinctive quality and made them easily accessible and addictively appealing. However, much like a nursery rhyme or classical fable, they are simple tales, and do not automatically translate to a ninety minute feature film. The Lorax is the latest in a growing line of Seuss’ stories that are taken, padded out and regurgitated as flabby, ponderous pictures.
The Lorax tells the tale of a twelve-year-old boy named Ted who lives in the walled city of Thneed-ville; a city of the future where everything is artificial, including the air, which is now a commodity. Ted seeks the heart of Audrey and believes that if he can get the one thing she longs for – a real tree – he will win her affections. He ventures out of the city and comes across the Once-ler, a ruined businessman who now lives as a hermit, remorseful of how he allowed greed to consume him and in turn devastate the land and nature. He tells Ted how he once battled with and defeated The Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito, on fine form) a small, orange, moustached creature, who speaks for the trees. Ted believes if he can bring back the gruff, but magical creature, he can bring nature back and win the heart of Audrey.
The Lorax comes from the same directing team who did the good – if overrated – Despicable Me. It’s a passable effort, with moments of good humour, intelligent Seussian-references and scenes of stunning visual effects. Unfortunately they are sparsely plotted amongst clunky dialogue, contrived scenes and uninspiring songs. This is heavily due to the length of the film, which is far too long to tell a story, which doesn’t have the scope to cover the eighty-six minutes of screen time.
Ron Howard’s live action version of The Grinch starring Jim Carey was the first modern adaptation of Seuss. And because of it’s roaring success Hollywood jumped at every piece of Seuss literary property available and are seemingly working their way through his catalogue. The Grinch was not a bad film. While many will argue that the 1970’s TV cartoon special, which starred Boris Karloff and was an entirely faithful 30-minute adaptation is the superior film, the fact remains that Howard made the Grinch work as a 90-minute film. He did this by telling the original story of the Grinch as the third act of his film and then drawing on all the aspects of the book to create a back-story for the protagonist and the actual plot and expanding and bringing to life the society of Whoville. In delving deeper into the world of Seuss, Howard drew characters from other books and made the film a celebration of his entire catalogue, rather than just The Grinch. Casting Jim Carey, the only actor really capable of playing the Grinch also didn’t hurt.
But it was in drawing from the world of Seuss, the character and the story that made The Grinch possible as a feature film. This is not possible with many of Seuss’ films.
Green Eggs and Ham does not have scope for a movie. Other than delving into the back story of the Green eggs and ham loving Sam and his suffering friend and having them go on some kind of adventure together, you don’t have material for more than a ten minute short film at the very most. Artistic license is, of course, always needed with any movie adaptation, but this requires new material to not just be imaginative and entertaining but to feel cohesive with the original work.
The Lorax book, however, at least has a clear narrative structure and a clear message at the heart of it. But in both cases the filmmakers take them too far. The message is rammed down our throats. Updating it from a desolate, grim, industrial world to a plastic society is perfect for the bright, colourful and child friendly, animated feel of the film. And while this takes away from the impact of the original book and the harsh anti-pollution message, the film still manages to feel preachy in more heavy handed ways.
The original Lorax cartoon adaptation of the 1970’s was a faithful, honest adaptation of the book with a thirty minute running time. It was charming and succinct; it took everything there was to take from The Lorax and made it into a movie. Brevity is the soul of wit; filmmakers would be wise to take these words of The Bard to heart when adapting Seuss, or making children’s movies in general. Is there a rule that states how long a movie has to be? If so then it should be immediately rescinded. Bambi was 68 minutes and not a second too short.
If the studio is worried about viewers feeling cheated by the short length of a film then they should staple some shorts to the front of it. Pixar do this all the time with great aplomb; not that they need to as their films often run way past the ninety minute mark, some even past the two-hour mark. However, while something like Wall-E has the richness of material that warrants this run time and more importantly can sustain the interest through story and character, many animated films (and indeed films in general) cannot. The Lorax is prime example of this; the result is they pad out a perfect short story with material that feels alien to anyone familiar with Seuss and clunky and unnecessary to those who are not.
Visually sumptuous and embracing the world of Seuss, The Lorax has enough going for it to please an audience of children and maintains the essence and message of the Doctor’s most adult and political book. However, the length and degree to which it preaches it’s anti-corporate message deeply damage what could have been a smart, significant movie.
The Lorax is released in UK Cinemas from Friday.
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