This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Universal Pictures newest animated feature, “The Lorax,” based on the famous Dr. Seuss children’s book of the same name. The movie was, overall, a very enjoyable film and definitely rated high up there not just for Dr. Seuss movies, but Universal Pictures as well, recently coming off the success of “Despicable Me,” which of course is gracing us with a sequel in 2013.
While I enjoyed most of “The Lorax,” being a fan of the book and the message it has to offer, some things did not sit well with me and yet, I don’t blame the visionary director and creators behind the film, but Universal Pictures itself. Don’t get me wrong, the film was both funny and witty, sentimental and caring, and at times it displayed a great deal of what I like to call “heart,” which very few animated movies achieve in an hour and thirty minutes.
I did not see the film in 3D (and no, this doesn’t affect how I judge the actual movie) but it was very obvious that certain action scenes or moments were simply added in because of the 3D capabilities. To me, these did not add to the story and weren’t necessary to the overall film but I completely understand why they were there. When a studio signs on to make a movie in 3D, it had better be at least somewhat worthwhile for the fans. That part isn’t so much the fault of “The Lorax” but what the industry has become and so for this, I excuse the creators.
One thing I kept thinking about after the movie was the major differences between Pixar and other studios that make animated movies such as Dreamworks and Universal Pictures. There is such a thing in storytelling known as the difference between “showing” and “telling.” Telling involved using dialogue and words to move the story forward while “showing” uses basically every other medium including the characters, body language, facial expressions, music, and more.
“The Lorax” was able to portray Dr. Seuss’ overall message about environmentalism well but did so in a manner that, frankly, was almost insulting. To be honest, I was looking for a little more subtlety in the story-telling and while the characters were enjoyable, the dialogue funny, and the overall storyline great, I feel as though the creators took the easy route by simply not allowing any room for silence.
One scene in particular that struck me as odd was when the narrator of the main story, the Once-ler, voiced by Ed Helms, was about to cut down his first tree. This was a pivotal moment in the story because it was the set for the events to come later, and this was done mostly by the Once-ler repeating phrases like, “Yup, just got to cut down this tree” and actually describing what he was doing as he was doing it. This dialogue was unnecessary and the creators decided to “tell” us the story rather than “show” us.
The success of “Despicable Me” also created certain standards for Universal Pictures to be successful the next time around. Everyone loved the Minions as well as the three adorable girls in the movie because they were cute, funny, and added a great deal of “heart” to the film. The fact that the main character, Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, loved the three adopted children made us care about him, and subsequently, the movie as well. Who doesn’t love the scene where the youngest girl is overjoyed by her new stuffed animal screaming, “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!” Perhaps this was a cheap ploy to gain the love of audiences everywhere, but this time around, it worked.
When creating “The Lorax” it seemed the makers of the movie would create “cuteness” through the use of the forest creatures originally seen in the book. Whether it be the fishes that are suspiciously reminiscent of “Alvin and the Chipmunks” or adorable little bears with cuddly faces, audiences once again have no choice but to go “aww” and fall in love once more.
While I too fell victim to these lovable creatures (especially the fat bear), I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the minions in “Despicable Me.”
While Pixar is not innocent of using cute characters and loveable animals to gain the audience’s affection, there is something that Pixar adds to its movies that other animated movies can only imitate. Pixar is the master of “showing” us a story without the use of dialogue. Only Pixar could create one of the greatest love stories in just minutes using only a montage of scenes and clips without speaking. I am referring of course to “Up!” and, how in just a few minutes, everyone immediately cared for Stan and his wife and felt extremely sad upon realizing she passed away.
The movie “Wall-E” also used very little dialogue to tell the story, yet people everywhere fell in love with the little robot and understood the message of the film, which coincidentally (or not) is a very similar message to Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” but unlike Universal, Pixar did it with little talking, showing us why we should care about the characters and subsequently, the environment and how we impact it.
Pixar has a long line of movies that “show” stories through devices other than dialogue.
Even Pixar’s films packed with star power (which doesn’t happen nearly as often as animated films by other studios), whatever dialogue used drives the story forward but doesn’t force the audience to get in line with the picture. In all three “Toy Story” films, we know how the characters are feeling by their body language, facial expressions, and the music surrounding the scene and don’t have to rely on the character narrating their own actions.
As I said before, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Lorax” and do consider it an excellent movie overall.
No one can blame Universal Pictures for resorting to cuddly animals and cute noises because in the end, that’s what sells movies and business is business. Pixar overall has perfect that balance in storytelling that allows us to care for the characters and the plotline because they feel real and developed, not forced and imitated.
As much as I might enjoy movies like “Despicable Me,” “The Lorax,” “Madagascar,” etc., nothing comes close to what Pixar has accomplished in almost two decades of filmmaking. Perhaps I’m too picky or spoiled by Disney, but to me, a movies got to have “heart” that is real and unique only to that movie, and Pixar is able to produce that feeling almost every time.