Through the years, the work of famed children's author Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, has seen various interpretations across various platforms. The financial success of Horton Hears A Who gave filmmakers a new venue to show off all things Seuss-ian, and a couple of filmmakers well versed in computer generated children's films decided to take on a relatively ignored Seuss work in The Lorax.
Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul adapted the story into a screenplay that Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda co-directed. All four worked on the film Despicable Me, with three recurring their writing and directing roles (Balda worked as a layout supervisor in the animation department for Despicable). Ted (voiced by Zac Efron, New Year's Eve) is living in Thneedville, a city where everything is commercially driven and artificial and lacking any real natural beauty. A girl named Audrey (Taylor Swift) who he has feelings for, declares she wants to see a tree. With the help of his grandmother, Ted seeks out a mysterious recluse named the Once-ler (Ed Helms, Jeff, Who Lives At Home), who lives outside the city. Through a series of flashbacks, Once-ler tells the story of how he met the Lorax (Danny DeVito, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia), a guardian of the forest who protects the trees and does not allow Once-ler to cut them down. The Lorax eventually relents and allows one tree to be cut down so Once-ler can use the tree to make his invention, a multipurpose piece of clothing called the Thneed. It becomes wildly successful and eventually the Once-ler and his family reunite and they chop down all the trees, which the Once-ler comes to eventually regret.
Here's the thing; I understand and totally sympathize with the fact that the story has an environmental protection message, but the filmmakers cram a lot of unnecessary 'chuffer' into a scene or image that winds up muddying the moment to the point of ruination. Compare that to Pixar, who gets out of the way of the moment and lets it speak for itself. At an hour and 27 minutes there are several musical numbers in The Lorax, including two from Helms, which in the case of the latter is worked into every non-independent project he appears in these days. When there is no singing, Once-ler and the Lorax have a somewhat acrimonious relationship leading up to Once-ler's deforestation project. That culminates in what is actually a touching moment. Why? Because nobody is talking or singing during it!
There are moments of actual humor. Rob Riggle (21 Jump Street) does a voice for the film's protagonist Mr. O'Hare and has a lot of fun with it, but past him, most of the other cast does not do anything that stands out or is memorable. Efron is decent, but Swift seems as plastic and inoffensive as most of her pictures these days, and Betty White (who plays the grandmother) is fine with what she has, but it's 2012, and apparently Betty white has to be involved, directly or peripherally, with everything that is released these days. Hers seems to be more stunt casting than anything else. Helms carries most of the action but fails to really resonate with me as the greedy turned regretful Once-ler, but DeVito does decent work as the Lorax, possibly because it kinda sorta looks like him, I don't know.
There is a reason why Pixar has the reputation that they do, and it is something I was reminded of while I was watching The Lorax. The filmmakers seem to want their cake and eat it too by being entertaining and serious, and the result is a film that whose entertainment is not that entertaining and distracts from the decent source material. The film made a pant load of cash so it is not going to stop future filmmakers from adapting Seuss' stories, but a little more care as to why they were special in the first place should be in order as part of the checklist.
The Blu-ray Disc:
An AVC-encoded 1.85:1 widescreen presentation shows The Lorax in all its 1080p glory, and the results are as expected with any other digital source material on Blu-ray, but the fine details put into the film are simply amazing. Facial hair and pores on animated characters are easily noticeable, and in one scene where a fish hangs onto a wagon for dear life (work with me here), when he falls off of it you can see the condensation/sweat left on the wood, along with the evaporation. As for the colors, they all pop vividly and look exceptional during viewing, and you could pause most anywhere during the film and marvel at the reproduction and the detail. Truly breathtaking stuff.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround rules the day for the film, with the sound being up to par with the video, particularly on one sequence when Once-ler is 'accidentally' sent down a river on his bed while he is still sleeping. Channel panning is abundant and effective, to say nothing for the many directional ambient effects, culminating in the subwoofer rumbling when the river runs into a huge Niagra-esque waterfall. Falling trees echo around all channels, and the feature's musical numbers possess a broad soundstage to work from. Dialogue is consistent and well-balanced through the film and the overall experience is wonderful. The Lorax looks and sounds great, that's for sure.
There is a lot of material here, starting with three mini-movies that are exclusive to this particular title. "Wagon Ho!" (3:10), "Forces of Nature" (2:14) and "Serenade" (3:19) focus mainly on the non-verbal characters and are forgettable. There is a making of (3:31) for the shorts also which cover the ideas for and planning of same. Moving on, a deleted scene (1:31) shows a little more of the Thneed acceptance, while "O'Hare TV" (1:34:02) is a copy of the film that includes fictionalized commercials with Riggle's character and the town. "Seuss To Screen" (4:27) includes the cast and crew's thoughts on approaching the adaptation and the ability to get things right, along with their thoughts on the story. The next several features are mostly kid-focused. "Expedition of Truffula Valley" is an interactive look at the city and forest that looks at the character biographies (and includes interviews with the actors that voice them), along with some of the stills for the animated characters. "Once-ler's Wagon", "Truffula Run-Avoiding" and "Get Out Of Town" are a series of set top games related to the movie, and there is a sing-along to "Let It Grow," the last song in the movie. A small easter egg can be found on the Blu-ray, though any BD-Live material was not available as of this writing.
The other big extra is a commentary from Renaud and Balda. They discuss the intent to 'go beyond the pages of the book' when it came to the story and discuss the idea for how a scene was to look, and what works and does not for the characters and their motivations. There is a good deal of explaining what is happening on screen without any useful production recollection, though some other creative choices are recounted, along with some song ideas. The track is active though it is hardly memorable. There is also a standard definition copy of the film (where the screen grabs for the review originate) which includes 'Seuss It Up!' where the film's storyboard artist shows how the characters were drawn. This may have been on the Blu-ray and I missed it, but I did not see it there. You also have both a digital and Ultraviolet copies for download and/or streaming should you see fit.
The Lorax may prove to be an attractive option for those looking for family friendly fare. And on a plasma television with a six-speaker setup, lives up to an amazing technical standard. But like most relationships with a beautiful looking person, they eventually become hollow and wither, and over the course of the film this happens here. From a bonus material perspective there is enough to entertain an ankle biter, so if you want to distract a child for 90 minutes without actually having to watch the film with them, this may be a good choice for you.