March 7, 2012 11:03

Dr. Seuss on the loose in The Lorax, Tim and Eric make big-screen bow

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If only because it’s animated, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is far superior to the catastrophic live-action screen versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) and The Cat in the Hat (2003), both of which tended to trash the Seuss name rather than enhance it.

The Lorax is not without its problems, including a presentation so mammoth (and, admittedly, so spectacular) that it frequently overwhelms the characters and their story. Visually, the film is a marvel. In narrative terms, it’s a simple message so trampled by the sur roundings that it comes in a distant second.

To be fair, it’s not easy to stretch a book that was fewer than 50 pages into a feature-length film, and The Lorax is nothing if not lively. Directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda packs the film with jokes (some very funny and none insulting to the Dr. Seuss name) and couple of musical numbers that are as grand in color and scale as the rest of the film.

Much of the story takes place in Thneedville, a city completely constructed out of synthetic materials. In order to impress his neighbor Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift), young Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) sets out to plant a tree for her. Trouble is, there are no trees in Thneedville. To find one, Ted must venture out beyond the boundaries of the city.

It is there that Ted encounters the reclusive Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms), who unwittingly laid the foundation for Thneedville when he chopped down a tree — an action that brought the title character (voiced by Danny DeVito) running. The Lorax’s duty is to protect trees, but he didn’t do a particularly good job preventing the Once-Ler from basically ruining what was once a beautiful forest, all in the name of the almighty dollar.

The wraparound story focusing on Ted becomes the predominant one. As a result, the Lorax becomes a supporting character in his own story, and indeed the narrative is less concerned with the Lorax than with Ted and his efforts to turn Thneedville around.

Nevertheless, the ecological message stressed in Seuss’ 1971 book is a laudable one. It’s hard to truly dislike a film that promotes the environment, especially one that does so in so splashy a fashion. The Lorax is sometimes too big, but it’s never not enough.

Opening Friday and absolutely not for children, Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie , which marks the screen debut of the comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job”). In addition to playing the lead roles — which (hopefully) represent fictitious variations of themselves — Heidecker and Wareheim also wrote, produced and directed the film.

As the title implies, Tim and Eric have made their first movie, financed entirely by the all-powerful Schlaaang Corporation (run by a bellicose but always welcome Robert Loggia). Unfortunately, they’ve blown the billion-dollar budget on Hollywood amenities, including absurd “show-biz” makeovers and paying sycophants, and have only a three-minute trailer to show for it. Understandably, this does not please the Schlaaang Corporation, and the rest of the story (such as it is) is loosely concerned with the efforts of Tim and Eric to complete their movie.

The rest of the story is also concerned with showcasing the raunchiest, most outrageous gags Tim and Eric can dream up — and they’ve got a vivid, vulgar imagination. Some of it sticks, some of it stinks, and for some viewers it may be too much. In one scene, Tim and Twink Caplan hit the sheets for an uproarious sex scene while, simultaneously, Eric is stuck in a bathtub full of human waste. One’s pretty funny, the other not so much. There’s no accounting for taste — or tastelessness, as the case may be. Still, Tim and Eric tend to be equal-opportunity, allpurpose offenders; if there’s an envelope, they’ll push it. If there’s a sacred cow, they’ll skewer it.

Adding to the lowbrow high spirits are such old pros as Jeff Goldblum, William Atherton, Ray Wise and Michael Gross (who narrates). They generally play it straight, while some of Tim and Eric’s TV pals play fast and loose: John C. Reilly, Zach Galifianakis, Will Forte and Will Ferrell, the latter as the Top Gun-obsessed owner of a shopping mall, which Tim and Eric try to reopen as a way to raise money to finish the film. You were expecting some semblance of believability? Look elsewhere.

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