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‘Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax’

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A-I – General Patronage

 

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Greed is never good for Seuss characters

“Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to get better.”

That’s the urgent moral of a beloved children’s book now translated into a 3-D animated feature as “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” (Universal). This action-packed, candy-colored film for the entire family retains the charm of the original 1971 fable while enhancing its central message: To wit, it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature.

Or, in this case, Father Nature, in the guise of the title character (voice of Danny DeVito). The legendary “guardian of the forest,” the Lorax is a grotesque furry creature with a broad mustache. Chop down a tree or otherwise despoil the environment and you’ll provoke a tongue-lashing from the Lorax – and a warning of dire consequences to come.

Since a spare, 61-page children’s book does not a 94-minute film make, director Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”) and screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (who also adapted “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”) have considerably expanded the story, building their tale around a teen romance.

Our hip protagonist, Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), yearns for Audrey (voice of Taylor Swift). Audrey, in turn, pines, so to speak, for just one thing – the sight of a real live tree.

You see, there are no trees in Thneedville, a town where every bit of the environment is artificial. Lording it over the locals is villainous Aloysius O’Hare (voice of Rob Riggle), who makes his fortune bottling fresh air and selling it to the public.

“Put anything in a plastic bottle and people will buy it,” he says. “More smog means more air sales.”

Thneedville wasn’t always this way. The valley was once a lush paradise filled with truffula trees (cross a palm tree with cotton candy and you get the picture) and magical creatures, including Bar-ba-loots (bears), Swomee-Swans and Humming-Fish, goldfish who can both walk and carry a tune.

According to Ted’s dotty Grammy Norma (voice of Betty White), who remembers the good old days, the environmental disaster was man-made. Go and find the recluse called the Once-ler (voice of Ed Helms), she tells Ted; he knows what happened to all the trees.

Indeed he does. As a young, ambitious entrepreneur, the Once-ler defied the Lorax’s warnings and harvested the truffula trees to make a miracle fabric called thneed.

Consumed with greed, the Once-ler ravaged the valley, displacing the animals. Eventually, the shame-filled, Grinch-like creature descended into madness.

Making the point, however, that no one is excluded from possible redemption, the Once-ler sees his encounter with Ted as a chance to restore the natural balance. But only if Ted “cares an awful lot.”

“Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” offers a positive message about caring for God’s creation while also respecting the needs of others. Its first-rate animation and catchy songs will make it an enjoyable outing for viewers of any age.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

(By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service)

‘The Secret World of Arrietty’

Audience:
A-I – general patronage

 

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Small world with big hearts mark this child’s tale

From Japan’s celebrated animation outfit Studio Ghibli and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi comes the poignant fable “The Secret World of Arrietty” (Disney). As remade in English under the supervision of Gary Rydstrom – the Japanese original was released in 2010 – this kid-friendly feature can be wholeheartedly recommended for all but easily terrified tots, who might be put off by its few interludes of looming menace.

Based on Mary Norton’s Carnegie Medal-winning 1952 children’s novel The Borrowers, the film begins with the arrival at a secluded country house of sickly 14-year-old Shawn (voice of David Henrie). A heart patient, Shawn has been sent to the quiet manse to prepare for a risky operation.

There he accidentally discovers a family of miniature people – dad Pod (voice of Will Arnett), mom Homily (voice of Amy Poehler) and daughter Arrietty (voice of Bridgit Mendler) – sharing the dwelling with him and with its other usual human inhabitant, meddlesome housekeeper Hara (voice of Carol Burnett).

Like others of their kind, known collectively as Borrowers, Arrietty’s diminutive clan survive by “borrowing” small, easily overlooked items from their towering neighbors – a single cube of sugar, for example, or an individual tissue. In addition to daring nighttime raids into the oversized human world, however, this lifestyle also requires absolute secrecy.

So, despite his best intentions to the contrary, Shawn’s insistence on befriending Arrietty – and trying to help her parents – imperils the little trio’s previously happy life together.

Beautifully crafted visuals and a tone of gentle melancholy characterize this meditative tale. Shawn’s temporary home is surrounded by the kind of garden in which Monet might have flourished. But nearby are dark, mysterious woods – and the rains come often.

As penned by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, and translated by Karey Kirkpatrick, the script contrasts the materialism of Shawn’s unseen parents – who, we learn, are too busy with their careers to accompany their ailing son and tend to his needs – with the deep bonds and traditional values that unite Shawn’s newfound pal and her devoted folks. The ingenuity, frugality and close cooperation that enable the Borrowers to flourish are also implicitly celebrated.

The film contains brief mild peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G – general audiences. All ages admitted.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)