It is hard to think of a bigger waste of resources than Illumination Entertainment’s adaptation of The Lorax, which is ironic because the whole point of the story is an argument against wasting resources. Dr Seuss’ classic text is a cultural touchstone for millions, and the heartbreaking story is one of Seuss’ finest. Illumination twists the story in all the wrong ways, trying to stretch the 45 page book into a 100 minute feature. Unlike the enormous success Spike Jonze had with Where The Wild Things Are, Illumination fails to add anything meaningful to Seuss’ text.
In fact, the studio cuts back at the book’s major focus (the relationship between the greedy, conflicted Once-Ler and the heartfelt Lorax) and expands further upon the young boy that features only within the book’s first and last few pages. The result is an uneven structure that dawdles when it should hurry and rushes when it should breathe. Instead of focusing upon a trusting relationship steadily tipping toward oblivion, we’re treated to a half baked love story and bull shit conspiracy plot lines. I’m not one who believes an adaptation needs to have strict adherence to its source, but I do believe the adaptation should have the same message. Illumination fumbles the Lorax’s message hard here.
The real shame is that Danny DeVito’s performance as the titular character is actually quite lovely, and Ed Helms’ remorseful take on the Once-Ler is spot on. If these two weren’t needlessly crowded by the useless characters Illumination has put forward we’d actually have a decent picture here. The most egregious of these characters is the expanded story’s villain that is bad for the sake of being bad, and that undermines all the work Helms puts into showing the Once-Ler’s gradual descent into villainy. You can’t show shades of grey when black is there muddying it all up.
To be perfectly honest I’ve had it with Illumination Entertainment as a studio, and this may be the last picture of their’s I see. Their signature effort, Despicable Me, was an absolute chore to sit through, and The Lorax has sealed my initial opinion that the studio has absolutely no grasp on how to stage a narrative. The studio’s animation is crisp and lovely, but they don’t have any idea how to tell a story. There are great bits of background action and smart animation a plenty here, but none of it means anything because the audience is never involved enough to care.
It’s impossible to ignore the political implications Seuss made with The Lorax, but it was always there just between the lines, and was delivered by a voice of cautious optimism. The immortal last word delivered by the Lorax—-”Unless”—-had a positive connotation in Seuss’ hands. In Illumination’s, the word is a pointed jab, a threat, and a curse. The subtext becomes text in a few cringeworthy moments here, and even the most die hard environmentalists would be a little hesitant to cheer for The Lorax. WALL-E’s green moments look toothless compared to Lorax‘s.
I can imagine worse films will come out this year, but those will be films that we expect to be bad. The Lorax is a film that doesn’t have the heart, joy, or intelligence that it’s source has, and that type of bad is far worse than the occasional studio efforts no one cares about. This is the type of bad film that disappoints and betrays millions. Someday there will be a Lorax done proper, but unfortunately this is not that day. For now, all we have is this piece of mass marketed garbage.
The Lorax will be available on BluRay and DVD on August 7th. You can pre-order a copy right here.