There is something charming about the original television adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. It has a clear anti-industrial/pro-environmental message, but it doesn't feel needy. It lets the sad story of ambition gone wrong get the point across in charming pastel style. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the big screen musical adaptation of The Lorax. The boilerplate is the same, but the effect couldn't be any different. A young boy ventures out to the home of the Once-ler to find out what happened to the natural trees that used to fill Thneedville. The Once-ler tells him all about his encounter with The Lorax, a mythical creature who speaks for the trees. Cue the destruction of the forest out of greed.
It's hard to place the blame on who, exactly, lost the soul of Dr. Seuss in adapting a tiny children's book into an almost 90 minute film. Is it Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul's screenplay that removed it? They're the ones who put the focus on the boy, now Ted, who only wants to save a tree to win the affection of an older girl, Audrey. All trees have been replaced by plastic imitations in a consumer-driven society built on the foundation of convenience and bottled air. This new framing device for The Lorax works well enough to fill out the story, even if it casts a far broader net of commentary than is necessary.
The original music in the film is more problematic. It's hard to write a good musical. You need to justify the existence of the songs in some way. This could be heightened emotional states, unexpected conflicts, or a story that by its very nature requires music (think Phantom of the Opera or The Music Man, where the existence of music is the foundation of the plot). The Lorax fails to do any of that.
It feels like the songs were added in not to pad the story but to sell more merchandise. This decision wouldn't be nearly as off-putting if you could remember any of the songs after leaving the theater. They are bland and repetitive. The only one that sticks in my head is a humming/nonsense song that doesn't actually end. Animated films do not require big musical numbers to feel complete anymore. Just cramming songs into any animated film makes the final product feel dated and out of touch.
The sad part is the quality of the actual animation is good. The characters are very expressive and move in a way that makes sense for a Dr. Seuss-inspired film. Everything looks right in the film, especially the color palette. The truffula tree forest is beautiful and all the little critters--especially the Lorax--feel right. Even the voice acting is charming. The sometimes-clunky dialogue sounds right and natural in context because of the casting.
It's a shame that a story like The Lorax was handled like this. Conceptually, the adaptation was flawed from the start. The original book does a great job of introducing young children to the conflict between free enterprise and conservation. This film adaptation throws itself in so many different directions that one of Dr. Seuss' more even-handed social commentaries feels pedantic and charmless. The film treats itself like a piece of popcorn fluff and the weightiest movie ever written at the same time. There is fun to be had at The Lorax, but it is fleeting.
Thoughts? Love to hear them.