Chris Renaud Talks The Lorax
The Lorax (opening today) proved even more daunting than the last Dr. Seuss adaptation, Horton Hears a Who! "The Lorax has its challenges because as a film we're asking audiences to grapple with issues that have real weight to them and to find the expression of a movie that can both do justice to his intent as well as realize the storytelling that is highly entertaining and engaging," suggests producer Chris Meledandri, who's managed to achieve the best of both worlds as an indie with his Illumination Entertainment and association with the Muc Guff animation studio in France, as well as being partnered with Universal. I discussed some of the challenges and opportunities with Lorax director Chris Renaud.
Bill Desowitz: What was it like tackling The Lorax?
Chris Renaud: A very challenging story to make a movie out of, which was the great part as well. As depicted by Dr. Seuss, it's a very serious message [about saving the trees] and the book in many ways has a very somber tone, 'cause it's a cautionary tale. So our challenge was to make a very entertaining, family-friendly movie that lets you in while maintaining that message.
BD: And what about the animation challenge of making it more dynamic but true to the original design?
CR: One of the funny things that we discovered was that because they don't look like trees or animals that we understand or relate to directly, you have to create, based on Seuss' illustrations, something that's believable. Because the Truffula trees are beautiful -- they look like cotton candy. But, by the same token, you have to create something that the audience feels something for. So it can't just feel like Candy Land; you have to buy it as a real forest. So we looked at Birch trees and then figured out how to make those wonderful illustrations work in a 3-D movie. It's a real fantasy forest that you could relate to when it's being chopped down.
BD: And you had a small visual clue in the book that enabled you to create Thneedville as a combination of Disneyland and Vegas?
CR: Yes, what happened was we went round and round. We had a design that was very city-like and very dense, which wasn't quite working. But we went back and looked at a little drawing in the upper corner of the page when the little boy is first coming to look at the Lorax. And we sort of used that as our basis: it's got these big, curvy roads and a couple of building shapes. In some ways, the easier choice would've been to create a Blade Runner-like dystopian future with smog. But of course we wanted to create something that was fun and entertaining, but in some way relates a little more about where we are today, with inflatable bushes and plastic flowers and fake nature that still has a sense of fun, much like Disneyland or Las Vegas or Dubai. So, in the movie that felt like a great way to go but also suggesting that you have to be careful to maintain balance with nature so it can be sustained.