Review by KC and Johanna Carlson
Universal is getting the digital copy thing right. They allow customers to choose their preferred formats and provide both streaming and download options with a single code.
For UltraViolet format, you can choose whether to redeem through Universal, Flixster, or Vudu, plus you also get to pick a download copy through either iTunes or Amazon. I really like that I have both options as well as vendor choices. And the code is good for almost three years, expiring in April 2015.
Of course, that doesn’t fix the fundamental problem of UltraViolet, which is that it’s still too complicated and rarely works right. The iTunes side was beautiful, just click a link, enter the code, and the movie plus bonus features starts downloading. The only problem was that it was expected to take nine hours over my low-level internet connection I’m using while traveling.
UltraViolet, on the other hand … I could log into their website, but using the same information through the Flixster side caused either an error or timeout. I’m not sure which, because all I got was a blank screen. All this is while the same browser has a tab open with me logged into UltraViolet using the same credentials that Flixster was choking on. So I ended up having to create a Universal account anyway, which now makes four movie studio accounts I have to go along with my UltraViolet account.
It took me a good half-hour just to get all these systems to recognize a legitimate purchase, not even counting time to actually download and watch it. This is why I still like plastic discs.
Back to the Movie
So, how is The Lorax DVD? Lots of fun, and beautiful to watch. It’s short and punchy at an hour 26 minutes, much like its star, Danny DeVito, who’s instantly recognizable as the voice of the fuzzy orange Lorax. This film isn’t about hiding its voice stars; instead, they cast for recognition, with Betty White most obvious as the grandmother.
The movie adapts and extends (with a framing story) Dr. Seuss’ great ecological fable, written long before “green” concerns became fashionable. Thneedville has artificial trees that run on batteries, so they need machines to provide fresh air, as they explain in a ridiculously over-the-top musical number. Ted (Zac Efron) has a crush on Audrey (Taylor Swift), only she dreams of someday seeing a real tree. Like all great journeys, this one begins with the age-old desire to impress a pretty girl. (Thus playing into the usual stereotype of guys pretending to care about something political in order to get the hippie chick’s attention.)
Stalwart Ted’s present-day quest is to acquire a tree for the achingly cute Audrey. But in order to find one, he must track down the ancient Once-ler (Ed Helms), who narrates the tale of how he first encountered the Lorax, who in Seussese “speaks for the trees”. The Once-ler blames himself for destroying the long-ago pastoral environment by creating a consumer fad made from the plants. The Lorax’s world is all bubblegum and day-glo, populated by cute and clever bears and a literal Greek chorus of singing fish (the most Seussian of the characters in appearance), whose numbers include both Chopin’s Funeral March and the theme from Mission: Impossible. (Illumination Entertainment, the folks behind Despicable Me, clearly believe all their movies must have cute sidekicks, in the vein of the Minions.)
How the Story Is Told
As most everyone knows, the average Seuss book can be read in two to ten minutes — which is a problem adapting one into a 90-minute animated movie. There are a lot of action/comedy sequences jammed into the film, which don’t really advance the story. By the end, they’ve gotten just plain silly, as the town’s mayor (Rob Riggle) and his goons chase the kids and their family to obtain the last tree seed, complete with Matrix-style special effects. But these scenes often present bizarre images — as when two bears are rubbed together to make static electricity — which are highly amusing.
There are also several original songs, none of which are bad, but none are very memorable, either (except for the consumerism anthem “Everybody Needs a Thneed”). The opening number, “Thneedville”, which sets up the story, is very Seuss-like in the way that the townspeople suddenly break into song and then immediately go back to what they are doing as soon as the tune is over. I also giggled at “How Bad Can I Be?”, the Once-ler’s anthem of commercial success justifying any action. Its weirdly Communist support marchers provide counterpoint, while the line “a portion of proceeds goes to charity” reminded me of the recent “pink ribbon” controversy.
Upon The Lorax‘s original release, it was criticized roundly for burying the original message of Seuss’ book behind glossy animation and production values. I found the environmental message of the film strongly intact, and I think it will find its true following on home video — along with its true audience of kids who might actually be able to change the world (assuming the in-the-way politicians eventually die off). Perhaps the original reviewers didn’t like the film because it wasn’t exactly Seuss’s book. Or, rightfully so, because the film’s promotion was lunk-headedly tied into some very environmentally un-friendly products.
While its intentions are good, The Lorax is still Hollywood gloss at its heart. It’s a tad bizarre watching such an obviously artificially made movie talking about how we need to get back to nature, but at least there was always something to see on-screen, with imaginative settings and scenes. The visuals are fantastic and will stick with me. There’s something particularly mythic about the way the young Once-ler — wearing a hipster-like hat and vest — brings sin into paradise with his first swing of an ax against a tree.
The Blu-ray includes three new-to-disc cartoons focusing on the animals. They look somewhat like extended action/comedy outtakes from the film, but they’re enjoyable nonetheless. These (and all of the following) can also be seen on the DVD version. These new “mini-movies” come with a three-and-a-half-minute making-of. You can see glimpses of the new cartoons in this trailer:
“Seuss to Screen” (4 1/2 minutes) features the voice actors and movie makers praising the artist’s genius and the way the movie came together.
One deleted scene (1 1/2 minutes) shows in slapstick-y fashion how the scarf-like thneed became a trend.
“Seuss It Up!” is 10 1/2 minutes in three segments showing kids how to draw some of the characters — the Lorax, the Bar-ba-loots (bears), and the humming fish.
The “Once-ler’s Wagon” is an interactive game where the animals play with objects based on what the viewer clicks. “Truffula Run” is another game. There’s also a sing-along and a directors’ commentary.
Due to being on the road, I wasn’t able to check the Blu-ray-specific features, but this site has a good rundown based on that particular format. (The studio provided a review copy.)