When I originally saw the trailer for The Lorax, I flashed to the live-action Grinch Who Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat movies and how I didn’t enjoy them.
I worried that a movie made from one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books would be similarly unsatisfying.
But interviews with the creative team involved in The Lorax, of the movie, from the producer and director to the writers and cast members, convinced me that Dr. Seuss’ stories are now in very capable hands. Like Horton Hears a Who! in 2008, The Lorax comes with the blessing of Audrey Geisel, Theodore (Dr. Seuss) Geisel’s widow.
According to co-writers Cinco Paul and Ken Duario, while Horton was her husband’s favorite, The Lorax is Mrs. Geisel’s favorite of her husband’s works. When requested to write a script by producer Chris Melandandri, the two men tried to sort out how they’d turn the book into a movie. Duario said for a long time he wasn’t sure the writing pair could do it.
“Sort of the breakthrough was saying, well, what happened before that boy went to visit the Once-ler, and then what happened after he gave him the seed. And that was kind of the moment where we realized, oh, yes, this could be a movie, this could work,” Paul said. “And we realized, there should be opposition, right? Someone wants to stop him from planting the seed. It’s not going to be easy. It shouldn’t be easy. And so, then we started to think in terms of, what is their world like?”
And thus the emphasis on Thneed-ville was born.
The movie had input from Audrey Giesel all through production, Melandandri said.
“She is involved from the ideas about story expansion to the translation of character designs into dimensional designs, to in this case, the color palette, because in this book, Ted Geisel, Dr. Seuss, used different colors than he had used in his body of work. And that was something that she was very involved with him in those discussions. And it was very meaningful within the book itself, and it was very meaningful to her. So, there’s a whole range of areas where she is very forthright and gives input consistently. And that was the case on Horton and certainly the case on this film.”
The result is a movie that stars young Ted knowing something is off in Thneed-ville and, in an effort to win the love of his friend Audrey who dreams of the trees, Ted goes on the adventure to visit the Once-ler. That the two are named Ted and Audrey isn’t coincidence.
“So, we thought if we just start a love story, make it Ted and Audrey. And she initially kind of demurred. She didn’t want to put the focus on her too much. But, ultimately, we convinced her,” Paul said.
Then as the story began taking shape, the actors started coming aboard. Ed Helms heard that a movie was being developed and called on his own initiative begging for even a small part in the movie. He was cast as the Once-ler. Helms said playing the Once-ler had made him seven to eight percent less greedy.
Helms’ fellow Daily Show alum, Rob Riggle, became the Mayor of Thneed-Ville, O’Hare, a character original to the movie and its main villain.
Danny DeVito was approached to play the Lorax and the actor, a long-time environmentalist who once owned an EV-1 electric car, agreed readily. Zac Efron, who plays Ted, said his mother used to read Dr. Seuss to him and he even has a tattered copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish still in his home. Taylor Swift was cast in her first animated role as the inspiring Audrey. And Betty White said she agreed quickly to play Grandma Norma, calling it a wonderful part.
The movie doesn’t tone the environmental message down though the creative team said there was nothing particularly political about it. They all said that the message is “be good to the land around you.”
One thing the trailer doesn’t make clear is how much music there is in this movie.
Even Riggle sings, though he said he had to have autotune for help. Some of the songs were tailored for Helms, who said he finds people who sing inappropriately “very funny,” and the movie begins with a song detailing the inhabitants of Thneed-Ville and ends with a joyous song. The writers called songs a “great shorthand” to impart a lot of information at once.
I did have one other concern from watching the trailer. It seemed like though Audrey was the one who dreamed of a better world, it was Ted who was the driving force, so I asked Melandandri and director Chris Renaud about it.
“Well, it really came from the source material,” Melandandri said. “We were really honoring the lead from Ted Geisel, which is that on the very first page of the book, you see this boy who’s ventured out from his town to seek out this information. When it comes to expanding on the movie, one of the things that we do with our writers, Cinco Paul and Ken Duario, is we look at, well, what happened before page one and what happened in between the pages and what happened after the last page of the book, and then look for clues in the book, in the story itself and actually in writings that Ted Geisel was doing about having written the book or what kinds of thought process he had.
“So, Audrey was a totally invented character who created a motivation because we asked ourselves, well, why is he there, what triggered his interest, his curiosity. And that led to the discovery and of an expanded story line. So, for us, the idea of having strong female protagonists in movies, when we did Despicable [Me], there certainly was an argument to be made that, well, why are you going to have three girls? Why don’t you have two brothers and a girl? So I think that it’s definitely something where we appreciate the dialog about having strong female protagonists. But, in this case, we were really going from what Ted himself had created.”
I can’t wait to take my kids to see it.