Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Why The Lorax 2012 REALLY Reeks of Capitalism



Chances are, if you've seen the new theatrical adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, you probably went home in a mood as fuzzy as Truffula tree. The kiddos are unified in arms in support of this flick. Of course they are. It comes from the producers of Despicable Me, which happens to have a sequel due for release in 2013. Naturally, the opportunity to pimp Despicable Me 2 isn't wasted in conjunction with The Lorax. You'll be treated to a silly skit teaser of those wobbly minions attempting some nasally acapella with party horn action, all in anticipation of the next film. As if this shrewd (and yes, despicable) ploy isn't enough, you can expect another one of those minions to return seconds later in a cutesy run-in with one of the bears from The Lorax before the latter even starts.

It's pretty insulting, if you ask me, but the marketing power inflicted like a one-two punch is undeniable. Already I'm dreading my son badgering the snot out of me to get him to Despicable Me 2, which he thinks is coming out tomorrow, not a year from now. Those exploitative bastards. This flagrant disrespect for consumers (i.e. parents) already sets a tone that something wicked this way comes by the time The Lorax gets rolling. Albeit, the kids think this abrupt genre collision is way cool. Of course they do. It was way cool in my day whenever Iron Man showed up in a Spiderman comic. Sadly, beneath the chic is just another damn marketing trick.

The common complaint amongst right wingers or at the very least, pro capitalists, is how baldfaced The Lorax is with its guilt-tripping agenda. Well, the original source material was never so much a jab against Big Business as it was a public service announcement about utilizing our global resources with a conscience. Moreover, Seuss warned against corruption and greed as part of a sound business prospectus. Greed is inherent to politics, marketing, sports, literature, journalism, knowledge and religion. Unfortunately for this do-up of The Lorax, greed by its constructors well overshadows any goodhearted intentions to smite greed.



As with the live action film adaptation of The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax 2012 serves up a wonder world that captivates and it salutes the trippy sherbet-colored alterverse Dr. Seuss created. That being said, both films plunder those fascainting scapes bred from a playful imagination and then seizes their own liberties to bloat their works into full-fledged ventures. Both films subsequently veer far from Seuss' concepts and visions, so much they're evident thievery, fail-safe constructs of their own design. They rake in the dough based on a brand name instead of remaining true.

With The Lorax 2012, we get an entire new set of circumstances we're forced to pay attention to instead of focusing on the very compelling, simplistic tale of a young boy coaxing the story of environmental violation from a regretful anti-villain. Seuss never once showed us what the Once-Ler looks like beyond his green-sleeved arm. That's part of the allure to the original story, knowing this ravenous merchant of ridiculous wool "Thneeds" has paid a long-standing penalty for his selfish pillaging. It seemed like a fitting punishment we accepted at face value. His potential ugliness was concealed, as it should've been. There's a darkness to Seuss' Lorax, one who speaks for the trees and whose memory is marked by a stone pedestal with the epochal decree "UNLESS" chiseled around the circumference. This Lorax is a pint-sized soothsayer with as much weight in his mustache as the rest of his furry exterior. He may have annoyed the Once-Ler in his warnings and pleas, but his heart-wrenching exodus from the original story leaves its indelible imprint upon the reader, no matter the age beholding it.

Unfortunately, this newest incarnation cannot opt for that alone. In order to sell tickets as a 3-D bonanza, an entire Thneed-Ville microcosm was ordered up in order to throw blatant, zippy images out to the audience. As if the Truffula valley wasn't enough to enthrall. Well, that's just fine and dandy for its own accord in a different enterprise, but it feels like intrusion in this scrambled tripe. As does the barrage of pop culture references (i.e. disco songs, the Mission Impossible theme and The Dukes of Hazzard, amongst others) which strangely work in the Shrek series but almost nowhere else without coming off as airheaded and obvious. All of the unnecessary slapstick and physical humor which Dr. Seuss never would've approved had he been alive feels like intrusion. It's a miracle this Lorax film avoided the obligatory fart humor that litters almost every other "kid-oriented" movie of this generation. Too bad the same wasn't said of The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch.



After awhile, whatever noble thoughts were conveyed in The Lorax are brushed away with a positively annoying shrimpy little bad guy, O'Hare. O'Hare strangleholds Thneed-Ville (it appears an irksome, dwarf-sized stereotype has bred throughout the CGI universe) by selling air to his citizens due to the pollution hovering outside the city walls. The thought of real trees inside Thneed-Ville would wreck his own capital gains, which prompts a new external conflict that bombards the original one to pieces. It's also a hopeless cliche and it only gets in the way as we're supposed to root on Ted, the main kid of the story whose prime directive for investigating the loss of trees is merely to impress a girl. Later, Ted feels an appropriate responsiblity to do what's right as O'Hare chases after him, but it all just feels like a prolonged provocation. Even the Once-Ler forcing Ted to keep coming back day after day for continued segments of his admission is gross negligence, an obvious padding of the running time.

By the time the core elements of the original story are touched upon, we have a lot more to go with Ted, his main girl Audrey and his spry grandma outwitting O'Hare so they can plant the effective Truffula seed to undo the mess originally propogated by the Once-Ler. Finally, the Once-Ler emerges from his dilapidated compound, redeemed, but before that, we've had to watch his younger self go through a literal song and dance (he even slings guitar at will, Jesus wept) as he first befriends then betrays the Lorax and the very-limited species animal kingdom once frolicking in the Truffulas. It's a weary prospect and Danny DeVito has been praised for his work in this film, but I personally wanted a bit more sage and sullenness in his delivery, not the ambivalence and near-doofiness the script calls from him. "You done good," The Lorax says to the Once-Ler in a return-to-Earth scene that Dr. Seuss never wrote. He sounds more like his fabled Louie DePalma from Taxi than a wise defender of the planet.

To its defense, The Lorax 2012 is a gorgeous film to behold. The CGI serves this film with such texture those Truffulas look like cotton candy and they darn well ought to be preserved. Even Thneed-Ville is filled with an eye-catching blend of brights and darks, creating a smart contrast of utopia and dystopia within one self-contained environment. The desolate wasteland left by the Once-Ler's land rape is appropriately chilly.

All of this is effective but trivial when you realize once again you've been duped into bringing your kids to an overblown kettle whistler filled with pop culture tidbits you're going to recognize but not necessarily your children. It's by design, it's out of place, it's all irrelevant to the spirit of conservation which Dr. Seuss' The Lorax brings to the table. We didn't need to see the Once-Ler's face, much less have a long-drawn origin story. Worse, Seuss' tongue-twisting pentameter is lost in translation. The rhymes (just like the other recent Seuss adaptations) is sparing, just enough to remind you where it once belonged, but the replacement dialogue is self-serving and very un-Seuss-like. Dr. Seuss made his point rather fast in The Lorax and though that point was cryptic, at least it was poignant. This is just an excuse to fill up Universal Studio's tills.

By the way, did you know Despicable Me 2 is coming?

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