Sunday, March 04, 2012

Truff-you-la? Really? And other thoughts after seeing The Lorax

I saw Dr. Seuss' The Lorax yesterday. I went to it, I admit, with a bit of dread - prior adaptations have been disappointing, to say the least, though the Horton movie was pretty good fun. I also come at this from a screenwriting point of view where I know that the writers simply HAVE to make major changes to create something that sustains for 80+ minutes. I expect that going in, so my issues are rarely with the fact that things are changed. It's usually in HOW they are changed.

The Lorax falls into that category, too, though I must add that I didn't find the movie egregious in its approach at all, as opposed to the ad campaigns touting environmental goodness and using the Lorax as a seal of approval. Not buying it for a second, thanks. But that is NOT the movie. Phil Nel talks of this distinction in his review, and I concur... though I don't give the movie a B+ like he does. I think that's too high, though the movie's beautiful and has some fabulous moments, too.

Anyway, my first comment is smallish, I realize, but I'd never heard Truffula Trees pronounced "Truff-you-la" before. In the old Lorax animated special it was "Truff-ya-la" and I've been known to say "Truff-a-la" also. But "Truff-you-la" as it's said in the movie? Huh.

Beyond that, what struck me in the film was both its embrace of the source material AND what seemed like a need to distance the movie from the book, too. To wit, the film starts with the Lorax breaking the fourth wall to tell us in the audience that the real story has more than "what's on the page." OK. That sets up the fact that we're in for a different experience. It's a good framing device, because the opening scenes of the movie are not related to the Lorax story we all know, though it soon becomes clear how it ties in. I'd also note that this is about as active as the Lorax gets, just like in the book - he moans and is a presence but doesn't do much, a real challenge for the filmmakers, no doubt.

Within the movie itself, there are clear references to the book... but only sometimes. And even then.... For example, a character uses the line that the tufts of the Truffula trees supposedly smell of "fresh butterfly milk." But then there's a dismissive "what does that even mean?" throwaway line! Ouch. That's a come here-get away moment that distanced me from the characters. Again, if one is not a fan of the book, it probably doesn't matter at all. To me, though, it was off-putting and unnecessary and speaks to this weird tension between the media.

Another moment that comes to mind - the Lorax lifting himself by the seat of his pants and disappearing. Why, I wonder, couldn't the filmmakers have had him give a "sad, backwards glance" as he left? I didn't see one. Perhaps I missed it, of course, as it's not like I was watching the movie looking for "off" moments. Still, while I recalled him looking at the Once-ler then, I don't recall the glance... and I wish I did. The moment worked, by the way, just like in the book. I'm just left wondering.

Some of dialogue in the movie had rhyme in it, but many lines began like parts of the book then veered away as if they couldn't commit. I can only imagine the struggle of how to embrace the rhyme and rhythm of Dr. Seuss in the script - the dialogue can't all be like the book, as people don't speak that way, after all. And yet, couplets did come out of folks mouths from time to time, almost all written for the movie, not taken from the book. Why those lines? Why not others from the source itself? I am unsure, but watching the movie, I noticed it. Of course, I also have read The Lorax aloud so many times, I know it far better than most. But still, for me, that was an issue.

The bottom line is that the movie is fine - sometimes way better than fine, sometimes not. There are musical numbers which I found them lacking the magic of the best Seuss songs - really, now, you don't name a character in a final moment just so his name creates a rhyme! And nothing in the movie compares to the sewer pipe song in the original animated short. Or or or. Yet, at least the numbers were there to move the story along NOT just to have a pop soundtrack. And certainly, love and care was put into the movie all along the way and that shows, too. I didn't love it, it's true, and I have quibbles and issues galore, but was I entertained? Yeah, for the most part I was. And I'll take that.

And you? Did you see it? Did you love/hate/enjoy/walk out of/laugh/sing? I'd love to know!


Anonymous said...

I think adapting any book, but especially a children's book, into film is an art/science more delicate than brain surgery. You really can't change anything drastic or you'll frustrate the audience (see: the Disney Channel's Avonlea series vs LM Montgomery's The Story Girl). It's great if you really understand and empathize with the character enough to develop a compelling backstory that serves to enhance the audience's love for the book (see: Jim Carrey in The Grinch), but if you try to hard, it's a disaster that puts potential readers off the book (see: Where the Wild Things Are). It's hit or miss in other words. And that's why I'm not sure whether I'll see The Lorax or not.

Greg Pincus said...

Yeah, picture book adaptation is not easy at all. No adaptation is though, and I say that having worked on a few in my Hollywood years. But picture books mean you HAVE to invent so much, and as you note, that isn't likely to please all the people all the time. The Lorax is fine, and maybe that's a victory by itself? I wouldn't tell you to rush out and see it, of course, but if you did, you'd probably enjoy a bunch of it.