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An Inconvenient Seuss

Over forty years ago, “The Lorax” first appeared in book form and told the story of a commercial enterprise run amok, in which every bright and fluffily foliaged ‘truffula’ tree is harvested to make ‘thneeds’ – a strange convertible garment that in today’s day and age would have its own late night infomercial. It’s a classic tale that focuses on commercialism, corporate greed, and a complete lack of sustainability as the loss of the raw materials causes the venture to fail as quickly as it succeeded. Along the way we’re introduced to the Lorax, a diminutive orange creature with a soup-strainer mustache who appears as an advocate for the trees and wildlife.  Think of the entire Sierra Club embodied in the love-child of Garfield and Wilfred Brimley. The villain in all of this is the Once-ler – who doesn’t fully appear in the book but who is seen in the new movie adaptation.

The movie “Dr Seuss’ The Lorax” expands significantly on the aftermath of the thneedcentric clear-cutting with an examination of local Thneedville, which sits behind high walls amid a hidden sea of truffula stumps.  Meanwhile, the lack of any kind of natural vegetation and the propensity to consume voraciously leaves the city with an air-quality problem that might make even Sacramento’s smog look desirable.  And it’s given rise to a new magnate who trades in bottled air. This would seem like more of a stretch if we didn’t already live in a society that can’t seem to get enough bottled water, despite it being a product that’s often less tested and regulated than the water that’s already piped into virtually every building standing. And for all of our complaints about $4-5/gallon gas, we’re steadily consuming water at $1-2/pint (or considerably more at events and movies) – and burning fuel to bring it in from Fiji and the Swiss alps so that we can drink it in traffic in a gas-sipping Prius.

Obviously the story here isn’t new, but it stands up well in the context of newer movie adaptations for young audiences, many of which convey similar messages. Films like the “Happy Feet” franchise feel like they should be sending royalty checks to Al Gore, “Wall-E” was set in a global trash heap and a ship full of morbidly obese consumers, and “Cars 2” was an examination of alternative fuels and oil industry opposition. While kids movies with messages have been around for a long time (think “Ferngully” on the environment, “Iron Giant” on gun ownership and military intervention, and “Battle for Terra” depicting an alien civilization that chose to turn its back on technological dependence), I’m at the point now where I’m surprised when I watch a kids’ movie that doesn’t come pre-loaded with political content. 

That said, “…The Lorax” is well made and, for the overlapping content, seems true to the imagery of the book.  The voice talent is unnecessarily A-list heavy (as is the current norm) but also appealing.  And the adaptation works well in a narrative sense – although Thneedville doesn’t look especially Seussy. 

Overall, it’s a fun film that should keep the kids amused. But if you’re pro-logging (without limits or re-planting), anti-spotted owl, or generally opposed to controls on things like air quality, you might want to take the kids chainsaw shopping instead.  Or find a pristine wilderness and do donuts in a fully gassed-up Ford Excursion. Somehow I don’t think the Lorax is choosing between Romney and Santorum.

Pariah
Written and Directed by Dee Rees

“Pariah” is a modestly produced but powerful film about a 17-year-old girl coming to terms with her sexuality.  Or perhaps more about how those around her are coming to terms with it, especially her parents who seem to be in a state of denial on the topic.  Written and directed by Dee Rees, “Pariah” is adapted from her own short, of the same name, from 2007.

We often see films in which girls change on the way to school, out of sight of their parents, in order to wear low cut tops and short skirts that would meet with disapproving stares at home.  Here, Alike’s church-going mother would probably frown on such outfits too, although she might prefer them to the relatively masculine outfits and baseball caps that her daughter hides in her backpack. 

The film has some themes and moments that seem somewhat unexplored and, at times, seems as though it was quite heavily edited in post-production.  For example, Alike’s father is depicted as a police officer and it seems as though that might have a narrative purpose that doesn’t quite pan out.  And a couple of scenes seem as though they’re played out of sequence, with a character seeming to see a location for the first time despite having been there before. 

But these mild concerns don’t overtly detract from what remains a compelling story that feels very genuine.  It may not be as slick as some of the films playing at the multiplexes, but this combined coming of age and coming out story has a lot more heart than most.

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