Timber! by Aaron Pinkston
The trend of more adult-friendly animation has made this a golden age of the film medium. The recent works of established studios Pixar and Dreamworks, and the new kids Industrial Light & Magic and Illumination Entertainment have all achieved a great balance of what appeals to parents and their toddlers. In 2010, Chris Renaud achieved great success with his first feature Despicable Me, a film that takes on this balancing act well. His follow-up, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, is a film that bucks this trend, with little attention paid to entertaining adults with any complexity, wit or creative whimsy.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I have no doubts that many children will have a very good time watching The Lorax — but their parents may not be so lucky. Based on a very popular children’s book, the film follows a young boy looking for a real-life tree to impress a girl he thinks is cute. When he stumbles upon a strange man in the deserted area outside of town, we’re told the story of how this world came to be without trees and the beauty of nature. Along the way, he learns a number of important lessons, like industry is bad, businessmen are greedy, and the general public is pretty stupid. Don’t get me wrong, the message of The Lorax is worthwhile, and I hope a number of children who see the film will have something stick to them. But I imagine they will have a better time falling for all the cheap tactics the film uses to gain a response, such as a snowboarding grandmas and cute little animals piercing into your soul with their cute little dopey eyes.
Sadly, the source material could have been so much more than what ended up on screen. The film jumps quickly from plot point to plot point without letting itself and its characters grow naturally. By the end of the film you realize you know nothing about these characters, which is strange for a film trying to incorporate themes related to redemption and public duty. These themes are boiled down to their basest elements and nothing is pondered on for too long, as there is a musical number to get to. The two few moments where the film slows down a second to truly consider the real concepts the film tries to handle, there is a truthful beauty in there. These moments are cheapened when the film makes it clear it is more interested in cheap jokes and unnecessary songs.
Although not really a musical, there are a three or four major numbers that encapsulate many of the problems of The Lorax. Firstly, these songs are completely unappealing — I can’t quite describe the music, but it has the same appeal to me as Kidz Bop. These songs also hold the worst qualities of bad musical theater, as they do nothing more than regurgitate exposition and the thoughts of characters which would be laughably bad if they weren’t disguised by being sung. During perhaps the most pivotal song in the film, the emotional center of the film literally transforms from being a young and innocent idealist to a grubby ultra-businessman in less than three minutes. And the final number sees an entire town, who have been more than happy in their plastic lives, finally stand up and negate everything rather easily.
It may not be completely fair to ask what is essentially a children’s film to appeal to those over the age of 7 — and though I’m hard on The Lorax, I recognize this just isn’t a film for me. I have no doubt that Chris Renaud and Illumination Entertainment have the ability to make interesting and thought-provoking films, but this isn’t one of them. I can’t hold every animated film to the standard of Wall-E (which is a much more sophisticated look at modern environmental problems), but The Lorax is perfectly content to please only to lowest common denominator.