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Feature


Twelve-year-old Ted Wiggins (Zac Efron) lives in the walled plastic utopia known as ‘Thneed-Ville,’ and will do anything to find a real live Truffula tree in order to impress Audrey (Taylor Swift), the girl of his dreams. As he embarks on his journey through the barren wasteland outside the city walls, Ted finds The Once-ler (Ed Helms), who claims responsibility for the disappearance of the Truffula trees, and imparts the incredible story of the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a grumpy but charming creature who speaks for the trees.

Lorax, The (2D)
The trailers that surrounded the release of The Lorax earlier this year, not to mention some iffy product tie-ins (Mazda SUVs and disposable diapers don’t really match the story’s basic themes), garnered a series of red flags for those of us familiar with Theodor Seuss Geisel’s original story. Seuss’ story of a misanthropic creature (charged with speaking for the trees, for the trees have no tongues) vainly trying to stop the utter deforestation of the forest comes fit with a reasonably happy ending, but is, for the most part, a grim, practically post-apocalyptic, environmentalist nightmare. Jubilant images of singing fish and colourful Seussian countrysides didn’t inspire faith in the filmmakers at Illumination Entertainment understanding their source material. The only relief came from the knowledge that members of the production crew had worked on Blue Sky Studios’ Horton Hears a Who, which not only displayed an understanding of the source material, but expanded upon Seuss’ short format story in truly satisfying ways. I suppose the adorable and unexpectedly funny qualities of Illumination Entertainment’s first release, Despicable Me, which shares director Chris Renaud, producer Chris Meledandri, and screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio with The Lorax, is another mark in the ‘benefit of the doubt’ column – along with the obvious financial need to make a family-friendly film.

It turns out that suspicions were not unfounded, they were just a little oversimplified. The Lorax is a flawed, unfinished product trapped between artistic and financial needs that arrives about two spit-polishes away from success. The filmmakers definitely keep their story’s morals in line with Seuss’ book, but they somehow manage to simplify an already simple premise even further. The plotting is more complex and the characters are more fleshed-out, but in the process the ambiguity of the story is lost (I don’t count turning Once-ler into a physically represented as a human among these problems, since Ed Helms’ performance is among the film’s better qualities). The supplemental elements just point more directly to the fact that the book doesn’t actually lend itself to a feature-length format. The flashback structure divides the film into two parts that never really gel and leads to some big dips in pace. This is all the more disappointing because the filmmakers came so close to achieving a truly moving finale, proving there is definitely something valuable in the narrative approach. For example: the burden of Once-ler’s sins are magnificently realized in visual terms, but the emotional and thematic impacts are dulled, following the weaknesses found in the cutaway, present-time story. The artful, rousing musical breaks and exciting action set-pieces work quite well as standalone moments, but feel more like filler in regards to the film as a whole. These highpoints eventually turn into a series of detached events that pause the thematic productivity and signify the filmmakers placating their audience’s supposedly short attention spans.

Lorax, The (2D)
Among the missed opportunities are a whole lot of jokes, though, on average, they hit more than miss, especially the completely random gags that fly in out of nowhere. Even when these don’t elicit laughs, it’s difficult not to respect the writers for their weird streaks. Quite often the analogous jokes are genuinely clever (I love the forest animals being pacified by marshmallows), if not occasionally too on-the-nose (Once-ler’s ‘too big to fail’ sign in particular), and there is a sense of bravery in including so much social satire in a children’s film, but these also beg unfortunate comparisons to a better anti-consumerist CG animated film – Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E (Stanton’s future world embraces the nightmare without alienating his audience). The more character-based comedy here, specifically anything pertaining to less central characters like Thneed-Ville’s leader Aloysius O'Hare, also compares unfavourably to Phil Lord & Chris Miller’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The Lorax does, however, tend to comparatively match better CG-animated releases in pure slapstick comedy (I actually found the film funnier the second time around while watching, because the commentary track covered the less amusing dialogue). Illumination is definitely building a visual brand for their animation. Though clearly inspired by Seuss’ original designs for two of their films, there’s definitely a flavour to their images. The studio is better defined by their animation practices, which fully embrace the animated format, rather than wasting energy on recreating reality. Their quick and whimsical character animation makes their brand slapstick impossible to resist. They also continue to exhibit an obsession with intricate, extraneous technologies, such as The Once-ler’s communication devices, which remind me of Despicable Me’s destructive devices, and help push the animated themes of high-energy quirk.

Lorax, The (2D)

Video


Once again I am tasked with finding new and creative ways to describe the utter and complete clarity of a computer animation Blu-ray release. This 2D release disc features the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in full 1080p video. The Lorax is more stylized than most of the similar CG animated films I’ve reviewed over the past year or so, which leads to a little less in terms of fine details and natural textures. In place of the hyper-realistic skin textures, coarse hairs and gritty, sandy embellishments are softer surfaces and more complex colour patterns. This isn’t to say that the image isn’t swarming with delicate textures, they’re just cushier, or, to make reference to Illumination’s previous release, ‘plushy.’ Even the finer intricacies of clothing threads and metal textures appear squeezably soft. Despite being originally formatted for 3D viewing, the depth of field tends to be kind of shallow. There are some extreme artificial focus pulls, but for the most part, I’m guessing the 3D qualities were designed to only really work in the 3D format. This isn’t a problem at all, however, because it leads to sharp detail from front to back throughout the film. My favourite ‘you’d miss this in standard definition’ bit is the end credit background image which features pieces of Seuss’ original art set against incredibly realistic paper textures. The colours are astronomically vibrant when called for, and very sharply separated, creating dynamic contrast levels without betraying the film’s gentle style. The colour quality helps sell the vast differences between the perky, plasticine appearance of Thneed-Ville, the warm, kaleidoscopic qualities of the living forest, and the stark, cold of the dead forest, including several poppy elements that stand apart from each style.

Lorax, The (2D)

Audio


The Lorax is presented with a Universal standard DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and it is loud. There’s nary a smidge of compression on this disc. The sound design itself follows a similar pattern to most big-budget animated projects, though perhaps a bit less dynamic and busy overall. The ever so slight lack of effects activity is mostly due to the fact that John Powell’s showtune-meets-‘tween-pop-meets-gospel music is given the biggest run of the track. This includes directionally influenced vocal effects (those soprano fishes move all over the place), rich, aggressive instrumentations, and big stereo and surround enhancement. The percussion track is also particularly punchy, and feature a heavy LFE presence without warbling. Outside the bigger musical moments a few bits stand out, most of which are clearly embracing the film’s theatrical 3D format. Chief among these is a big, multi-vehicle chase through Thneed-Ville. This includes both the usual zip of objects movie throughout the channels and extra rousing point of view shots that up the subjective qualities of the mix.

Extras


The extras begin with an audio commentary featuring, co-directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda. This commentary is not listed on the back of the box (seemingly it’s counted as ‘and more’). You’ll have to go to the set-up section. The track is quite informative, almost overwhelmingly so considering the sheer quantity of factoids flung at us. For the most part Renaud rules over the track and he does a good job relating his discussion to the on-screen action without devolving into bland descriptions. Renaud also does a solid job finding lulls to discuss the film’s production history. Balda does have a place on the track outside of being Renaud’s ‘sidekick’, and is called upon to discuss the parts of the film (often action pieces) he oversaw, though usually Renaud ends up taking over the discussion again rather quickly. Without ever specifically stating the production may have been unsuccessful adapting Seuss’ story, the commentators certainly point to some of the problems, and in discussing the division of labour they somewhat inadvertently made a film that feels detached from sequence to sequence. I genuinely enjoyed this track, even as it lost some of its steam, and found I enjoyed the film itself more after listening to it.

Lorax, The (2D)
Next up are the much-touted mini-movies. These include Wagon Ho! (3:10, HD), where Pipsqueak and Lou (the fat bear )take Once-ler’s wagon for a joy ride, Forces of Nature (2:10, HD), where The Lorax and Pipsqueak try to scare Once-ler in the night, and Serenade (3:20, HD), where Lou and some other random bear both attempt to serenade a she-bear. The mini-movies are followed by a making-of featurette (3:30, HD) with producers Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy, co-director Kyle Balda, and writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul.

Seuss to Screen (4:30, HD) features cast members Taylor Swift, Zac Efron, Ed Helms and Danny DeVito, production designer Yarrow Cheney, CG supervisor Bruno Chauffard, Balda, and Meledandri discussing the design of the film and how it relates to Seuss’ art. The Blu-ray exclusive extras include O’Hare TV, an option to watch the film with faux-commercial interruptions from the film’s evil corporate head, Expedition of Truffula Valley (sort of game/image gallery where you unlock production art, animation tests, and character stats), the Get Out of Town game, and a ‘Grow Your Own Truffula Tree’ Easter egg. Other features that are on both the Blu-ray and the DVD also include a completed sequence that was deleted from the film (1:30, HD), the Once-ler’s Wagon game, the Truffula Run game, a sing-along, and trailers.

Lorax, The (2D)

Overall


The Lorax is neither the disaster I feared, nor is it the great film I was hoping for. It’s a medley of strong character animation, beautiful Seussian style, and missed opportunities. The film’s fans, and, of course, their children, should be plenty satisfied with this Blu-ray release. The 1080p image is basically flawless, the DTS-HD sound is big and boisterous, and the extras include a solid directors’ commentary for the grown-ups, along with time-wasting mini-games for the kids.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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