The Lorax (2012)

You know it’s summer when Hollywood unleashes a relentless assault of animated features to enthral the kids and hopefully entertain their accompanying parents during the school holidays, and this year is no exception. Up next in the blitzkrieg is the extravagantly colourful world of The Lorax, based on Dr Seuss’ story of the same name. But does this old yarn-turned-film both bedazzle and amuse, or is it simply a children’s tale set to bewilder and bemuse? Read on dear reader for I shall wage, that the truth is to be found here on Film Phage…

The Lorax (ably voiced by Danny DeVito) for the uninitiated is a story by Dr Seuss essentially telling the tale of the environment vs. corporate greed. I won’t go into the intricacies of the “plot”, but it’s suffice to say that the film tells of how one man (the Once-ler, voiced by Ed Helms from The Hangover) tells a young boy his tale of how his lust for profits rid the world of vegetation and how he didn’t listen to The Lorax: the guardian of the trees. He then entrusts the final seed in existence to this young boy for him to do with as he wishes. If this sounds a bit hokey, then that’s simply because it is. Seuss’ original story is incredibly short and is a bit like a parable; ending on the cliffhanger of “will he or won’t he”. But this is a children’s movie, not the infuriating ending to Inception, so expect no ambiguities… in fact, don’t expect much at all.

What you can expect are modern-day animation staples such as beautiful rendering, celebrity voices and a paper-thin romance. It’s the latter that really undermines the ethos of the film, with Ted (Zac Efron) wanting to find the tree to get in there with his crush Audrey (Taylor Swift). Seuss’ original vision is somewhat bastardised here, as this kid doesn’t really give two Humming-fish about the environment – he’s fulfilling his basic human urges… to get a smooch! C’mon, he’s probably 10, he’s not looking for some hanky panky with a 13 year old girl. Well, that might be the norm in certain districts in a town or city you know, but I’m certain that’s not the case here.

But that’s not all the film does to betray Seuss’ original vision… oh no no… if you live in the US you’ll be fully aware of this advert on your TV, and if you’re not from the US, then watch this bearing in mind that this is a pro-environment, anti-corporation film:

Yes indeedy – the Lorax LOVES a car powered by petrol… made from trees. A confusing message to send out you say? Well that pretty much sums up the entire film: confused. Most of the “extra” material not mentioned in Seuss’ book is simply padding to give context and get to the Lorax part of the tale (and he only sticks around for about 1/2 the entire film). All of these shortcomings just compound how bitter a pill this is to swallow, as it looks beautiful – the animators have rendered Seuss’ world with such loving detail; it’s just a shame that the script has all the charm and charisma of a tin of stale sardines.

The Lorax

Place your bets for a good review… now.

So what about the humour? Surely this film succeeds in that area? Well, I’m afraid not. Whilst I found Ice Age: Continental Drift unexpectedly engaging and genuinely funny in places, I found myself sitting there like the Grinch for this film. And others in the screening reflected this mood. There were muted sniggers from some, and the kids laughed every time a bear or fish made a meaningless squawk, but there was nothing really entertaining about the script. And let’s never speak of those joyless songs. That’s why it’s such a shame to hear that DeVito not only recorded his voiceover in English, but also in Russian, Spanish, German and Italian despite speaking none of these languages: he did it all phonetically. This is a simply mind-blowing approach to voiceover work, which is why it’s so soul destroying to see a film of such lacklustre calibre after all that effort.

I really wanted to like The Lorax, I really did. I always root for an underdog, and after disagreeing with fellow critics’ opinions on Ice Age: Continental Drift, I thought I too might find some green shoots of quality on which to feast, but instead was left with a mouthful of tarmac. If only the Once-ler had obeyed the laws of basic economics and just replenished his supply of trees as he went – he’d have made untold profit and kept the environment going… and also prevented me from needing to sit through 86 minutes of poorly-scripted cinema.

And so dear reader I bring this woeful tale to a close,
as the fable of The Lorax has left The Phage somewhat morose.
Whilst easy on the eye and replete with pure intention,
the story’s dreadfully weak script makes one call one’s sanity into question.
And not even the sublime, multilingual DeVito: the once Oswold Copperpot,
can render this film’s flaws so easily forgot.
For The Lorax is no Horton… Not even a Grinch,
but you can’t help but wonder what next of Seuss’ books Hollywood will pinch.
So lest I end up sounding like old Yoda the Jedi,
I’ll end this little ditty and bid you goodbye.
But I’ll be taking bets on which tale they will next pilfer and pluck…
Or you could be one of those that no longer gives a …

Phage Factor:

Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)

Ice Age

No thaw in sight…

Do you remember learning about the Ice Age in school history lessons? How about plate tectonics and the phenomenon of “continental drift” in geography and geology? Remember them happening at the same time? Well, depending on how kind Father Time’s been to your grey matter over the years, you may or may not. Hell, some of the kids watching this movie probably think you’re old enough to have been IN the Ice Age if you’re over the age of 26. And as with the inevitable passage of time and the joys it brings, here comes the the fourth instalment in the Ice Age franchise. But is the ice beginning to crack beneath its feet, or is there a *ahem* (faux-Austrian accent) “freeeeze cahming“?

If you recognised that Batman & Robin reference, then you may be one of those perceived ancient “Ice Age” dwellers like myself. But that isn’t the audience that Ice Age: Continental Drift (aka Ice Age 4) is primarily aimed at is it? It’s a film choc-full of slapstick comedy, regurgitation and silly voices, with that sickly sweet undercurrent of a “message”. You probably think I’m winding up to deliver a one-two haymaker filled with bile and scathing opinions about this film right? If you looked at the Rotten Tomatoes score, you’d probably expect that too. But I’m going against the grain here. No, this movie isn’t going to revolutionise cinema as we know it, nor does it represent the second coming of Christ, but it is a genuinely enjoyable romp for the most part.

Ice Age 4

The boys are back in town!

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, the series of films follows the exploits of a mammoth, sloth and sabre-tooth tiger, voiced by Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary respectively. It’s a typical animated series in regards to the fact that its formulaic in its outlay: all’s well, a problem occurs, whacky adventure ensues and everything ends happily. These adventures have consisted of returning a human child to its parents, avoiding global warming and saving Sid (the sloth) from a land of the dinosaurs. Hey, no-one said this series was historically accurate! Last I remember, animals didn’t speak English either. They spoke Afrikaans, everyone knows that. And that only began in 1826. Indeed, this series doesn’t disappoint in terms of a whacky, inaccurate theme – yes, the continents are splitting apart super fast to form a geographic pattern we recognise, leading to our crew embarking on an adventure. With Pirates. Like The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! but supping from the crazy juice.

So why am I not tearing this film apart? It genuinely made me smile and laugh. Maybe this is a reflection on me, but it was echoed by the rest of the audience too: from the young to the elderly. Sure, it doesn’t have the *nudge nudge, wink wink* subtly adult themes and humour of animated movies like Shrek, The Incredibles or Monsters Inc., but it has flourishes, such as Sid breaking the fourth wall and reflecting on the fact that the dinosaur plot from Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs made little-to-no sense whatsoever. The film also featured an ape “Pirate Captain”, voiced by Peter Dinklage (currently featuring in Game of Thrones), which was originally intended to be voiced by Hawkeye, aka Jeremy Renner. Now this ape doesn’t do anything particularly funny – he’s just the big bad guy that gets slapped around. But what I did find funny was how similar it looked to Ron Perlman. An odd aside, but I found it somewhat amusing.

Ron Perlman & Gutt

Separated at birth? Don’t get me wrong, I love Ron Perlman, but there’s something there right? No offence Ron… and Gutt.

Maybe the film was entertaining as it reminded me of being a child and watching Wile E. Coyote chase Roadrunner, which was slapstick comedy at its finest back in the late 80’s. Regardless, the film made me smile, and I was in no way bored when “the gang” were on-screen. The same goes for the “new” additions, such as a genuinely funny Flynn the elephant seal; ably voiced by the fantastic Nick Frost.  However, the film was simplistic, and anything that revolved around Manny’s (Romano) daughter Ellie (Queen Latifah), was mind-numbingly tedious and drawn out. Whilst mentioning Queen Latifah, it’s also interesting to point out that the casting directors must have really wanted a well sung credits song, employing the voice talents of Jennifer Lopez, Drake and Nicki Minaj as various animals. I really have to mention Nicki Minaj, as her often schizophrenic singing intonation is perfect for animated films. Seriously. Put this girl in more of these films, I’m being genuine.

So will this be the last entry in the Ice Age franchise? Well, I’ll ask you this: did the recent Ice Age occur at the same time as the dinosaurs, where there was mass global warming AND the separation of Pangaea? No. No it did not. And nor will this be the last we see of these characters. Where next? I’m putting my money on the table for one of these scenarios: Ice Age: In Space, Ice Age: Time Travelling to the Future, or the grim Ice Age vs Predator

Overall, this film obviously has its pro’s and con’s. If your interest in the series is waning, this’ll do little to breathe frosty life back into the dying mammoth that is your passion, but if not – get out and see it for some light-hearted humour. If you have kids, they’ll probably enjoy this, and you will too – animated features have come a long way since the pre-Toy Story era. And if they don’t laugh, I’m sure they’ll just be entertained by the flashy bright colours and how funny it is to kick the backs of the chairs of the row in front at the very least. And you can put money on seeing Manny & Co. in another year or two. Hopefully with Ron Perlman again.

Phage Factor:

3 Star