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The Lorax by John Powell

The Lorax

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The Lorax (Soundtrack) by John Powell
The Lorax (Soundtrack) by John Powell
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The Lorax (Soundtrack) by John Powell

The Lorax
Composed by John Powell
Varese Sarabande Records (2012)

Rating: 8/10

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“[The Lorax] continues to prove that POWELL remains the 21st century’s master of animation. As if we needed more proof.”

Powell Speaks for the Trees
Review by Edmund Meinerts

THE LORAX marks Hollywood’s fourth attempt to take one of the classic children’s stories of Dr. Seuss and bloat it to feature length to please the kids. Inevitably, it falls into the exact same trap as HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, THE CAT IN THE HAT and HORTON HEARS A WHO – when your film is based on a thirty-page illustrated children’s’ book, you’re going to have to stuff a whole lot of padding into the film in order to hit the ninety-minute mark. If the first three films were bogged down by extended sequences of mugging from Jim Carrey, Mike Myers and Jim Carrey again, THE LORAX arguably commits a worse sin – it becomes utterly hypocritical. The film takes the anti-pollution, anti-corporation message of the book to extravagant levels, essentially doing what Pixar’s WALL·E did with a fraction of the subtlety. But don’t expect anybody to take the message seriously when its titular character starts appearing in ads ranging from Mazda to IHOP – truly fighting the big corporations, there.

JOHN POWELL probably has more experience at scoring animated films than any other composer alive – THE LORAX marks his seventeenth – and it’s no surprise, given how very good indeed he is at the genre. Currently, he seems to be focusing on little else, but his run of quality in recent years has been particularly high, with 2010’s stunning HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON leading into a pair of slightly inferior, but still extremely enjoyable works in 2011: KUNG FU PANDA 2 and MARS NEEDS MOMS. His assignment to THE LORAX was perhaps slightly predictable given his involvement with HORTON HEARS A WHO (a zany, tremendously enjoyable and somewhat underrated score), but it has allowed him to make yet another frenetic, colorful addition to his canon.

The score opens promisingly, with a bright and energetic fanfare for the character of Ted (a non-Seuss addition) leading into the sort of soft, gorgeous choral work POWELL has been favoring in the past few years. Here, the choir presents a theme for the Truffula Trees that has slight structural similarities to his flying theme from HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, but is beautiful nonetheless. Devoted followers of the composer might also get a kick out of the fact that at 1:15, he offers a reprise of the bell ostinato sound that defined the highlights of his very first score, FACE/OFF. “Granny to the Edge” (2) offers a very MARS NEEDS MOMS-like action cue in its second half, continuing into “Wasteland” (3). In “Truffula Valley Fantasy” (4), Powell creates a pseudo-nostalgic atmosphere for the glory days of the valley before it became polluted, with several choral statements of the trees’ theme. Beware the brief and obnoxious chipmunk-like singing in the cue’s first minute, however.

In the otherwise slapstick “Onceler and Lorax Meet” (5), the titular character’s theme is first introduced – a likeable, Mediterranean-flavored idea that, more than any other tune from this score, has a surprising tendency to stay rooted in your memory. It is reprised in “Houseguests” (8), where it interplays with a bright tune for the idealistic, younger version of the Onceler character. A stomping, low-brass motif for the villain, O’Hare, debuts in “O’Hare Warns Ted” (6) at 1:08, and becomes a regular player towards the climax of the film and score.

The score takes a turn for the dramatic in “Valley Exodus” (8), a cue that wouldn’t sound out of place in the HAPPY FEET series. Particularly impressive is a darkly choral, barely-recognizable exploration of the Lorax’s theme in the first minute-and-a-half of the cue, once again proving that these POWELL scores benefit greatly from repeated attention in order to catch these thematic subtleties. Surprisingly tender piano closes out the cue with grace, an understated highlight of the score.

The inconsistent action of “The Last Seed” (10) then leads into the score’s most crowd-pleasing cue, “Thneedville Chase” (11), which is five minutes of rambunctious orchestral mayhem. The cue is augmented by an electric guitar that, as in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON’s “Test Drive” cue, actually manages to augment the music rather than overwhelm it. The cut to a few seconds of elevator music at 2:14 might be cause for a bit of eye-rolling, however…hardly the newest trick in the book. After a brief cameo from the GREEN ZONE theme and a final, wondrous performance of the Truffula Trees’ theme in “At the Park” (12) to mark their replanting, POWELL closes the score with a very surprising reprise of the piano theme from the end of “Valley Exodus” (9). “Funeral for a Tree” (13) swells into a gorgeous strings-and-choir statement before returning to the piano. It’s a highly poignant and surprisingly “grown-up” way to end the score, and only the frustratingly brief nature of the swelling portion of the cue restrains it from a fifth star.

Upon a first spin, a listener might feel somewhat disappointed with THE LORAX. It seems at first to share the somewhat disjointed structure of the recent HAPPY FEET TWO – possibly, as there, due to the presence of multiple songs in the film, which are incidentally co-written by POWELL and which share some melodies with the score. It lacks the obvious, longer-lined, hummable themes that most of POWELL’s animated scores feature in order to guide you through their madcap shifts in genre and style. The score does feature several ideas (for Ted, the trees, the Onceler, the Lorax, O’Hare and the singular piano motif), but they are used rather sparingly and some of them won’t be apparent upon a first listen. It doesn’t help that, with the exception of the robust “Thneedville Chase” (11), the action music is much less cohesive than one might hope – it often sounds similar to MARS NEEDS MOMS, but without that score’s constant and engaging thematic flow.

However, as with the majority of POWELL’s animated scores, repeated listens will prove to be rewarding as the score’s multiple motifs become more familiar. The dramatic highlights of “Valley Exodus” (9) and “Funeral for a Tree” (13), despite lacking a spark to elevate them to five-star status, are an unexpected treat. THE LORAX does remain firmly a step below POWELL’s previous Dr. Seuss venture, HORTON HEARS A WHO (nothing quite reaches the level of the “We Are Here” sequence), and it certainly doesn’t climb to the dizzying heights of something like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. But it is still a worthy score – much more subtle than the film, at any rate – and it continues to prove that POWELL remains the 21st century’s master of animation. As if we needed more proof.
 

Rating: 8/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Ted, Audrey and the Trees 2:38  *****
2 Granny to the Edge 2:32  ***
3 Wasteland 2:19  ****
4 Trufffula Valley Fantasy 5:02  ****
5 Onceler and Lorax Meet 2:34  ***
6 O'Hare Warns Ted 3:32  ***
7 The River Bed 4:05  ****
8 Houseguests 3:14  ****
9 Valley Exodus 4:56  ****
10 The Last Seed 4:56  ***
11 Thneedville Chase 5:04  *****
12 At the Park 3:12  ****
13 Funeral for a Tree 2:11  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 46 minutes  

 

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