Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Quick Film Thoughts: The Lorax

So sue me, I liked The Lorax. Well, most of it anyway. It was cute, it was entertaining, it was funny, the songs were catchy, there were some funny jokes (even if a few of them were along the lines of, say, fish singing the Mission Impossible theme- which I'll admit I laughed at- and Ed Helms imitating the Swedish Chef). The bizarre questions that come when you analyze what it took to extend the story to feature-length (If the Lorax was magic, why didn't he just use his magic to stop the Once-ler? I understand him and the animals taking over the Once-ler's house in a sort of "Occupy Thneed" protesty thing, but did they actually like living there more instead of the forest? Did Betty White really need another paycheck?) are overshadowed by the enjoyable story of environmentalism vs. commercialism wrapped within a parallel, very similar story of environmentalism vs. commercialism.

Until the last act of the film when the Lorax's story is finished and the movie somehow becomes a chase scene involving Ted and Audrey (ha ha, I see what you did there, movie) protecting the last truffula tree from the evil air businessman or something.

I understand you have to pad a story of such short length to get it to a certain longer length. Hell, even Chuck Jones had to put a comic action sequence in the middle of How the Grinch Stole Christmas to get it to 30 minutes minus commercials (and nowadays commercials minus the already-short short to the point where they have to rhyme "hoss" with "stunk"). But he didn't spend an entire reel doing it.

Chase sequence aside, it's a fun film and not as much a travesty to the source material as, say, The Cat in the Hat. Horton Hears A Who! remains the best feature based on a Seuss book, but this is a close second.

On my scale, I give it a Recommended. I think stars are subjective and pointless, but if I had to, I'd give it 2 and 4/5 out of 4 stars- one point has been knocked off the third star for that last-act chase.

(As an aside, one of the most amusing things in the film isn't intentionally amusing- or at least I don't think it is. The song the Once-ler sings about the greed and excess of his growing business at the expense of the forest, including a remark about PR people lying for his gain paired with a visual of the Lorax being thrown a thneed in surprise which becomes a "Lorax approved!" billboard photo op, could just as easily have been sung by the studio heads who approved, say, a "truffula-tree-friendly" Lorax that's "the sort of car the Lorax would drive." Not since WALL-E have I seen such commercialization of a film with an anti-commercial message- and this one is unintentionally aware of it! The irony's so thick you could cut down a truffula tree with it.)

THE LORAX Motion Picture ©2012 Universal Pictures. THE LORAX book and characters ©1971, 2012 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. No ownership intended or implied. Photography: Universal Pictures - Associated Press.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pac-Man Fever Dream

I’m not sure if anyone was clamoring for a stereoscopic 3D CGI cartoon from the creator of Animaniacs and the former head of Marvel Comics about Pac-Man as a teenager, but we’re getting one anyway. In a bizarre news announcement (but, then again, a good portion of the news to come out of the entertainment industry is quite bizarre), Namco Bandai announced that it sold the U.S. rights to their new Pac-Man cartoon to Disney XD. Set to premiere in the fall of 2013, Pac-Man: The Adventure Begins comes from producer Avi Arad and writers Tom Ruegger and Paul Rugg. This thing has actually been in development since 2010, and at E3 that year, Namco Bandai showed a preview clip. Based on the promo photos and such, it seems that the series won't be too far off from what this original preview showed...

(The reason the video is blurry is because it's was meant to be viewed at the E3 event itself with those newfangled non-red-and-blue 3D glasses; this could very well be the first stereoscopic 3D series in television history.)

At the same time, this looks like a trailer for a Michael Bayesque big-budget adaptation of a familiar property, a parody of a trailer for a Michael Bayesque big-budget adaptation of a familiar property, and a tad satirical in that it appears to be somewhat self-aware that said premise is ridiculous and at least makes a few jokes along the way, perhaps due to the Animaniacs factor at work (the leader of the ghosts not really caring that his minions are defeated so much as they didn't leave him for good is at least somewhat amusing).

So, what are we dealing with here? Basically, we have an origin story which also tries to create a backstory for Pac-Man. Pac-Man, who is apparently a laid-back, gluttonous high-schooler, becomes an unlikely hero as he is forced to save the Pac-world from the wrath of the ghosts, who are apparently the actual ghosts of an invading army who failed to invade the Pac-world before but are somehow able to now as ghosts are something. He does this, of course, with the help of the power pellets, and this makes it seem even more likely that power pellets are actually drugs of some sort.

For that matter, some of what Arad said about his plans for the show back in 2010, combined with what's shown here, make it seem even more bizarre, like the countless fan fictions I've seen that try to tell a serious story with children's cartoon characters, or that Simpsons line about "a realistic down-to-earth show that's completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots." (Then again, Rugg's most recent writing credits include Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, which is pretty much that Simpsons quote personified.) "We feel we have a unique opportunity to have an action adventure, human interest story. As a filmmaker, it's a unique opportunity to get to know the characters you play...We don't know what happened to Pac-Man's parents. He's the only yellow one in Pac-Land; what does that mean? Is it a social statement? We'll find out."

At this point in time, it's too soon to tell whether or not this thing will work. There's definitely some potential; as I said before, it seems to know how bizarre the premise is and not take itself seriously. The casting of Pac-Man as a reluctant hero is also an interesting one- it's the sort of Peter Parker "with great power" thrust-upon-him-unexpectedly thing that's been done time and again, but given how little story Pac-Man has to begin with, it's at least some sort of plausible story that you can gleam from the source material. At the same time, however, some of that grandiosity- and Arad's suggestions that it may be even more so- make the idea seem even more unusual than it already is. Whatever happens, I'll be keeping an intrigued eye on this project as it gets closer to air date. If there's one thing we can all be assured of, it's that it will at least be better than the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon.

I just wonder what Billy Mitchell thinks about all this.

PAC-MAN ™&©1980-2012 NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. No ownership intended or implied.