C.D. of the Month: 4/11/2016: The Lorax (DePatie-Freleng - 1972) - Forum.
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#1 Posted : Tuesday, April 12, 2016 10:23:25 AM(UTC)

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(I'd like to apologize for this being over a week late. Unfortunately, I've been busy with many other things lately.)

(This scene might be Don Williams at work, judging from the eye-multiples he so often excelled at in his animation for Art Davis at WB.)

The Lorax
According to Charles Brubaker, this is one of David DePatie's favorite specials to come out of his and Freleng's studio, and it's not hard to see why. Dr. Seuss's (in)famous fable on the dangers of going too far with industrialization at the expense of the environment is, in my opinion, made even better in this extended screen adaptation from 1972.

Hawley Pratt's direction might not be in-your-face the way Chuck Jones's on the first two Dr. Seuss specials is (and I don't mean that as a slam against Jones!), but it's clearly gifted; this understated yet expert approach suits the special and its themes very well. The animation is well done, and the acting, while not ground-breaking, is convincing; there are actually a few subtle touches in there, among them the Lorax slapping away the cigar the Once-ler is smoking at one point. One other element I've noticed is how restless the cutting is at times, to fairly brilliant effect; for instance, at least one shot showing a close-up of the Lorax and his expression in response to an event happening at the moment lasts less than a second. And then there's the excellent use of double exposure twice in the special to depict the passage of time: first during the montage when the Once-ler is setting up shop, and again during the rather creepy celebration of the Once-ler (all those green swinging bodies and the panning back and forth between them...yikes!), when all his family is remembering back to when he arrived in the forest.

Just as he was in Chuck Jones's Dr. Seuss specials, Maurice Noble was a key component in making Hawley Pratt's turn out so well. His production design here almost exactly reproduces the art style of the original book, to the point that several shots seem to have been taken and composed directly from the book! Yet, being a film with many other elements new to the story, there are several original shots; these shots, satisfyingly composed and designed (at times cinematically) as they are, and the book shots blend in seamlessly with each other. Noble does a fine job of making said new elements, particularly the giant Thneed-making complex, truly Seussian in design; if I recall correctly, Tod Polson's great book "The Noble Approach" talked at one point about how Noble's job as production designer entailed making even the props fit in, using props from "Horton Hears a Who" as an example, and it seems that Noble applied this philosophy to the Dr. Seuss specials he did for Hawley Pratt as well (including this one, of course!). The color styling is quite vivid and tasteful, such that even the murky scenes of the forest once the Once-ler's industry is in full swing, not to mention the opening and closing scenes featuring the ruins of the industry, are appealing to look at.

Amongst the animators, there is one other leftover from Chuck Jones's films who worked on almost nothing else for DePatie-Freleng besides this and "Dr. Seuss On the Loose": Dick Thompson, who got his start in the Jones unit at WB in the 50s. His sole other credit for the studio is on what I presume was the pilot episode for DePatie-Freleng's Blue Racer shorts, "Support Your Local Serpent", directed by Art Davis; that short also has rather full animation in it, in addition to Bob Holt providing the voices. (On another note, the Blue Racer series represented a transition for the studio; the Davis-directed shorts are just about the last truly good DFE theatricals, several of the others are amusing to dull, a few (particularly "Snake Preview") are entertaining just for how weird they are, and at least one (I'm thinking of the final entry, "Little Boa Peep", outsourced to Bob Balsar's Pegbar Productions) is outright garbage.)

Bob Holt plays an effective role of "talking to himself", voice-acting both the Once-ler and the Lorax; I think it's safe to say that his voices are the exact voices you'd expect to come out of those two characters! Unfortunately, however—and feel free to shoot me for this—the acting seems to suffer a bit at times, particularly towards the pivotal end of the Once-ler's tirade at the climax of the special, where you can almost hear him straining to yell that last high-pitched, "EVERYONE NEEDS!!!" the way he did. The songs, written by Dr. Seuss and scored by Dean Elliott, are an integral part of the special, helping to emphasize the situation at hand in a way merely telling it would not, though Elliott's incidental music in-between the songs does sound rather dated and even somewhat tasteless at times (which, admittedly, adds to the 70s charm of the special). And leave us not forget the chorus's great job at actually singing most of the songs; it's a shame that they're uncredited, especially Thurl Ravenscroft, who provides a nice bit of irony during the "Everybody Do-Do-Do-Do Need a Thneed" number when he voices a baby mentioned in the song with his deep voice.

I'm sure you folks know the story by now, and I'm sure most of you are aware of the changes made to it in this special (for the better, in my opinion): the Once-ler is deep down troubled by his behavior, the issue of employment is brought up, the whole factory is expanded into something far bigger thanks to Maurice Noble, the original Lake Erie line is preserved even today, etc. The SFX editing by Lee Gunther, Joe Siracusa, and Rick Steward mainly consists of older Treg Brown SFX (a reminder of DePatie-Freleng's roots with WB) with a bit of Hanna-Barbera (particularly the wind whistle scat that DFE had been using since 1966), and I believe even the Jay Ward ratchet turning sound is used at one point (when the Lorax, declaring he will continue to speak for the trees while guarding a Truffula Tree in the midst of a rapidly-built urban complex, is lifted along with that tree by an excavator). This was right before DFE's SFX editing took a turn for the truly bizarre (WB, Jay Ward, and significantly more Hanna-Barbera SFX being used in roughly equal amounts), a change first seen in their "Barkleys" and "Houndcats" series for NBC later in the year and all too evident in "Dr. Seuss on the Loose" the following year (1973).

So what do you think of this humble yet well-made film? Please let me know!
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#2 Posted : Tuesday, April 12, 2016 9:54:21 PM(UTC)

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I've seen this a lot of times at school and home, even borrowing a "sing-along" version at the library at one point, somewhat initially not realizing it when I borrowed it.

Some songs got stuck in my head......

They made the Once-Ler look like The Grinch! It's like they were long lost cousins.

All the video releases leave the original "I heard it was bad up in Lake Erie" line the book cut out for later printings. Funny,because during the 2003 power outage Lake Erie was polluted again due to said outage.

I kinda imagined the climax of the live action Yogi Bear movie to have a climax where the trees chopped down with the machines in The Lorax cartoon! Weird imagination I guess?

I wonder if there was a sponsor tag that defeated the 1972 special's message as the 2012 movie did with its tie-ins? It was probably easier to edit out compared to the 60s Peanuts specials......

Sorry if my observations and memories were vauge, I haven't seen the special in a while, plus, I only wanted to be entertained (and educated) by this special. I didn't really apperciate the artistry too much, probably because the CBS/FOX and Universal releases are not color corrected like Warners....

Edited by user Tuesday, April 12, 2016 10:00:27 PM(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

#3 Posted : Tuesday, April 12, 2016 9:59:21 PM(UTC)

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According to Mark Arnold's new DFE book "Think Pink", the special was originally sponsored by Nabisco.
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