IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax'

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 12:49 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax'

Had he not passed away in 1991, this Friday, March 2nd would mark the 104st birthday of Theodor Geisel.  More popularly known as Dr. Seuss, Geisel wrote and illustrated children's books that were not simply inventive, whimsical diversions for kids. Be they stories of holiday-hating imps, magical felines in stovepipe hats, or butter-based ideological battles, the books of Dr. Seuss work from universal emotions or surprisingly allegorical commentaries.

To coincide with what would be Dr. Seuss' birthday this Friday, Universal is releasing The Lorax, an animated 3D adaptation of Seuss' 1971 environmental fable that depicts the differences between the titular creature, who defends the trees of a typically Seussian setting against the Once-ler, who devastates nature for his own ends.  Previously made into an animated short in 1972, this new The Lorax from Illumination Entertainment expands the story to feature length.

In the film, co-directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, Zac Efron voices an adventurous and romantic 12 year old whose search for a tree to gift to his crush, voiced by Taylor Swift, leads him to meet and join forces with the Lorax.  No less recognizable and actor than Danny DeVito voices the the Lorax, while Ed Helms brings life to a more substantial version of the Once-ler, who is never seen in full in Seuss' text.  At the Los Angeles press conference for The Lorax, Efron, DeVito, and Helms discussed the experience of voicing their characters, recognizing themselves in animated form, different languages, and the environmental themes of the story.

Like the rest of the cast, Zac Efron, who became a household name with Disney's High School Musical franchise, has a history with Seuss' hugely influential books.  "I started reading them in high school," he joked. "No, I have a lot of vivid memories of my parents and me reading these books. They would read them to me. It’s frozen in my mind - I can see them all. I still have them in what used to be my room, it's been turned into a spare room at my house. I’ve been kicked out. My little brother took over my room."

For Ed Helms, The Hangover star whose Andy Bernard has taken over for Michael Scott as Regional Manager on NBC's The Office, lending his voice to an animated feature was a long-term goal.  "I’ve always, since I’ve become a working actor, the idea of being in a big animated movie has held a lot of appeal and has always been something that excited me as an idea."  When it came to this specific project, Helms said, "So when I heard about this particular story being on Illumination’s docket, I kind of hunted it down and I told [producer] Chris Meledandri at gun point that he had to put me in the movie, even if it was just a bar-ba-loot or any little part. And then they came back and offered me the Once-ler and I was kind of blown away."

The Lorax marks the first voice role for Efron, who explained, "I was nervous the first time. I was a big self-conscious just because there is a camera on you and the microphone is so close. As with anything, you've just got to let go. You've just got to let go and don’t be afraid to be crazy. Danny was the one. I actually looked up a clip of Danny working on a previous project and saw how he was doing it. He’s a wild man in there. He’s a wild man! So the next time I went in there I said, 'Screw it!' I went as crazy as possible and took it to the next level. It was fun."

"It looked incredible in the 3D," Efron said of the first time he saw footage from the film. "And I thought, 'This should totally be a ride at Disneyland.' It was so neat and it was really fun. The only bad part of doing that is we had to record, literally there were entire sessions where I just go, 'Whoa! Awww! Hey! Look Out!,' for hours. They would leave it on, leave recording and I would just do every single guttural sound imaginable."

On the flipside, there's DeVito.  While ordinarily in an animated film, an American actor only records the English dialogue, and native-speakers then record other languages for international distribution, Danny DeVito took the liberty of voicing the Lorax even in international versions.   The actor explained, "I had been looking at it in Spanish and in Italian and in German and in Russian. And I dubbed my voice in all those languages. This is the thing, I don't speak any of those languages. I speak a tiny bit of Italian, but I did it all with coaches and phonetically and it was a lot of work. It was like you know something that you, once you cop to it and you say, 'I'm gonna do it, but the water's really cold when you get in it.'  You know, you go like, 'Oh my God, that mountain is high!' You're at the plateau, you say, "Okay, we can rest here," and then you look up and there's the tip of the mountain and you go, 'Okay.' We did German, we did Italian, and there's Russian. But we had a great time."

"It actually wasn't hard," he said of the unconventional experience. "The way I did it was I learned phonetically the lines first. I got them comfortable, kind of comfortable where I was making one, two mistakes it was comfortable. And then I had listened to what I had done already in the movie because I did all of my own stuff of course in the movie and then I remembered where I was in the spirit of it and the intonations and the and so it was kind of a it was fun, it was like something that's never been done before and I thought it was really cool."

He joked of the response to his total commitment to the character, "I did some Russian interviews on the phone and different places I always preface it with, "I know that you guys have great actors to do this. It was just one of those things where I got it in my head to do it." And once I said I would do it, I didn't want to back down even though I did think well this time I'm taking a job away from Louie."

"The hard part is finding the voice," Helms explained of his task, which required him to voice the character both in his youth and as an elderly version. "Over time, it was kind of an evolution working with [director] Chris Renaud, and he kind of pushed me and pulled me and shaped the old Once-ler. And then the hard part was actually, each time I came in for a recording session, which might a month apart, [was] re-getting there again."

Additionally, on his first animated movie, Helms was involved in a big musical number, which came as a surprise. "I don’t think that when I first read this script it was clear that the Once-ler would be singing. And I don’t even know how much it was thought to have big musical numbers even, or in the early incarnation. But certainly I love to put that out there, and John Powell, the composer who just knocked it out of the park in my opinion, gave me some great opportunities to do that. I just wish I had gotten to sing on that Thneedville song in the beginning because I love that so much."

"I didn’t even realize it until they pointed it out," he continued. "But I was doing these physical things for the old Once-ler. But the young Once-ler was a bit more, a bit closer to just my natural intonation and speaking voice. That was a matter of thinking through ahead of time where he was in the story, because you’re kind of picking up lines all over. When you go into a recording session, they’re like, ‘Okay, do this, and then we need that, and then this is changing so we’re doing that,’ so you kind of have to just keep your eye on the ball."

Similarly, Efron said that, upon seeing the film, his animated alter ego evidently had some recognizable attributes.  "When you’re in it, you're kind of in it," he said. "I know there were a couple of moments that I remembered it was me and I could see it most specifically. The people I watched it with, like my friends and family said, 'Oh my god, he was you.' So I guess they noticed."

DeVito, as well, noticed traces of himself in the Lorax, saying, "There's a cantankerous kind of like you know thing where I feel like I see in myself where I'll say something like, 'Wait,' and I'll make a move, I'll do some kind of gesture and that was all in there. The other stuff that I found surprising was the sweetness kind of worked out too. I felt like the Lorax had a sweetness about him."

Upon seeing the finished film for the first time, DeVito said, "I was pleasantly surprised, now like I said, I've been seeing little scenes and different like you know doing the dubbing in different languages, but first of all, the first thing that knocked me out was how rich and beautiful it looked when they were delivering the and the going down the "thneep" of the streets and seeing the trees and the stuff and then the fact that the characters felt true to the people who played the parts. They were very, very in the know with Taylor and Zac and with Betty and everybody and Ed, everything was falling into place. I felt very happy that because I set out to like speak to not only the kids in the audience and their parents, but I also wanted my fans who know me from other kinds of movies or other TV shows, like say for [It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia] I wanted them to think, 'Well, this is like Frank Reynolds doing the Lorax.' I felt that we captured that thing really well."

Helms was impressed with the way illumination Entertainment, which also created Despicable Me, expanded the story, saying, "I think that you look at the source material and it’s very simple – I don’t know how many pages the initial book. It’s a quick read as an adult, you just thumb right through it, it’s not a complicated story on the surface, but it is a complicated story; the layers going on there – the arc of the Once-ler – are fairly complex, and I just think that the guys here did just an incredible job looking at the source material and then just fitting in things that make sense. As they built around it, they didn’t corrupt what was initially there. They just sort of added a lot of supporting information and material that was at times moving and at times hilarious and certainly all visually mind-blowing."

As for the environmental message that has long-defined the source material, it has survived intact in the translation from classic children's book to cutting-edge digtally-animated movie. 

"It's not saying that we can't be inventive and still think of things to sell or make or manufacture," DeVito explained of the ultimate idea behind the film. "But the idea is that if we're gonna take the goods from the Earth, the supplies, the materials from anywhere, we should think about the sustainability of it, the replenishing of it. If there's a way and that's why the focus going to unless and what Dr. Suess said, unless someone like you, meaning everybody out there, all of us, meaning me. I think of it all the time.?"

Efron agreed, saying, "Yes, the big one is for the environment. Like I said, I was searching for a way that I could do more. I always wanted to get involved and this seemed like a great way in. I felt like this could be a way I could help truthfully and honestly to spread a great message. I try to be green as much as I can. It’s hard; I feel like I'm never doing enough. Here I am sitting drinking out of a plastic bottle because that’s what you get handed. I’ve always been searching for a way to get more involved and to help. I feel like this movie with the message that it has, it’s finally like a really organic way to be able to help get involved for me as an actor. There are only so many things you can do. This is a way through film to teach and hopefully get the message out to young kids. As they say in the movie, 'It only takes one seed.’ so I think we are planting those seeds."

"I think that the movie is obviously about trees, which is a very specific environmental reference," Helms said.  "I really think that if you want to assign a message or a lesson to this movie, it’s really just about being a responsible person and being responsible to your community and wherever you live and not falling, going down the greed rabbit hole, staying aware of your values and avoiding excess. That I think is a much more universal take-away from this thing than any particular specific thing about saving trees or saving fish, birds or whatever. That’s a very handy metaphor that Dr. Seuss uses in this story…I think it’s a little bit bigger than that because that to me is something that people – you can dispute the value of an environmental message; you can’t dispute of a message that’s about being a good person, and I think that that’s where Dr. Seuss is a genius.

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, which also features the voices of Betty White, Rosemarie DeWitt, Rob Riggle, Nasim Pedrad, and Jenny Slate, arrives in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D this Friday, March 1st.

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