a tale of two movies

March 26th, 2012



This weekend something unprecedented happened, and I’m not talking about the fact that a movie with a teen female heroine earned a record-smashing $155 million dollars at the box office, though that did indeed happen. No, I went to two movies in a weekend. Since I have had kids, this Just Does Not Happen.

The first movie was The Hunger Games. I’ve been reading some of the reviews of it, some rapturous, some mildly positive with a bunch of stuff about lost opportunities, very few negative. I dunno. I am a pretty harsh critic in general but I LOVED the movie. I personally thought it captured all the nuance and ambiguity of the book and Jennifer Lawrence was terrific. OMG, the quiet scene right before she enters the arena was spectacular. I found the violence to be the exact right amount. I mean, I know it had to be off-screen to get a PG-13 rating but by doing it this way, I found it chilling, and felt exactly what I think Suzanne Collins wanted us to feel: total gross ambiguity at every death. Because you’re relieved that Katniss is okay. But embedded in that relief is some sort of gladness that it’s another child killed in this absolutely absurd contest. Cognitive dissonance much? You can smile at Katniss’s post-Cinna-makeover media triumph but then how different are you than the decadent ghoulish residents of Capitol, for whom all this killing is, to quote Jon Stewart, “horrotainment”?

I left the theater feeling drained, and I stayed that way for days. I cried several times, at one point openly bawling. It takes a lot to make me cry at movies, people. Now maybe I bring the source material in with me, maybe that deepens it and so I know all the nuance that goes on between the pages. But I thought that nuance was right there, playing out on Jennifer Lawrence’s face as she fake-smiled upon being crowned the victor. Show don’t tell is the first rule of writing. It also makes for the strongest acting. The Hunger Games was a visceral experience.

Now, I saw the movie at 10:30 on a Friday morning and the theater was pretty empty and most other filmgoers were sedate adults like me. So there was no cheering when one of the mean tributes gets offed. Or booing at President Snow. But nevertheless, I felt that the filmmakers, in making the film as they did, they trusted their audience. To get it. To get at the multiple layers, of enjoying something like this (or watching a war on TV like it’s a movie) while at the same time understanding that enjoying it is part of the problem. I loved the fact that the love triangle was played down, that Katniss’s ambivalence for Peeta was there, that she was a figure of integrity, not a sexualized hottie with a bow and arrow.

The movie rocked. And I’m so so proud that it represents kidlit.

Okay, on to the second movie. The Lorax. Another kidlit movie. Obviously, I’m not the target audience. But that is not why I hated this movie with a passion as bright as the Truffala trees. This is a movie that didn’t trust its audience. It pandered to it. A dopey, soapy environmental message that if we all plant a tree, everything will be OK. I keep comparing it to the brilliantly subversive Wall-E, which charted similar ground of human greed and environmental degradation and the hope of one little plant, and it’s weird because ostensibly they are about the same thing. But I left Wall-E both amazed (they made this? For kids?) and depressed (yep, we’re heading for that, and I just threw my giant popcorn tub in the garbage where it’ll go to landfill) and amazed again (the film was fantastic). I left The Lorax needing a shower.

For one, the motivating factor, why Ted (named after Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss, I assume; I wonder what he’d think of the honor) wants to find a tree is to impress a girl. The girl wants to see a tree. Which begged the question: Why wouldn’t SHE go on the adventure to find it? And then, after finding out what went wrong with the trees (we chopped them down, now we have to pay for bottled air because no trees=no photosynthesis and the greedy air manufactures would like to keep it that way) there’s some cute little adventuring and then everyone changes their minds and a Truffala tree is planted and it’s all good.

Maybe if The Lorax hadn’t merchandised to a sick amount (green cars, green detergent, the Lorax would approve. Dr. Seuss, I daresay, would not), I wouldn’t have minded. Maybe if the girl character, who was the one who CARED ABOUT TREES, had gone looking for one, I wouldn’t have minded (apparently, if I want to see that movie, I have to wait for Brave). Maybe if the reason for finding a tree hadn’t been a kiss from the girl. Maybe if Ted had undergone some sort of transformation, maybe if the movie hadn’t ended with some feel-good you-can-make-a-difference quote, but statistics about the number of trees cut down per minute in Brazilian rain forests and what kids can do to make a difference, maybe then I wouldn’t be so angry. But I am.

Not just because the movie sucked, but because the filmmakers didn’t trust their audience. That is the amazing thing to me about Wall-E and The Hunger Games. In both cases, filmmakers trusted their audiences to get the nuance. To understand moral ambiguity. To be in the uncomfortable position of consuming media and attacking consumerism and media. To understand the gray area and be entertained. The Hunger Games (and Wall-E) entertained me (and Wall-E my small children). And they made me think. And they made me feel. Which is the bar we should set for films, for all ages.

I will stop now. Perhaps it’s good that I only get to two movies in a weekend once a presidency.

  1. It’s a good job I didn’t want to watch the Hunger Games, there are some pretty major spoilers in there, including if I’m not mistaken, the ending, lol. I haven’t read the book – I don’t get the fascination with adults reading kid/young adult lit.

  2. I warned of spoilers. But they are more major. I just assume everyone who reads my blog has read HG.

  3. Completely agree with you on everything you said about The Hunger Games. I thought it was well done. Jennifer Lawrence was brilliant, and I was surprised that I liked Josh Hutcherson as Peeta.

    I have not yet seen The Lorax, although I am sure at some point I’ll have to take the kids since they keep asking to go…

  4. I agree with you on Hunger Games…mostly, but about the nuance you are dead on.
    About the Lorax – I one hundred and fifty seven thousand percent agree with you! We are avid Seuss readers in this house, as was I growing up, and The Lorax is one of his less chipper books. It’s still my daughter’s favorite. It’s in the same vein of Yertle, my favorite, being modeled after Hitler. They tell an amazing story but at the same time they carry an enormous message and as a mother of three kiddos, who read the books at a young age, they get it.
    In The Lorax, the book, it’s not just a green message, but also about killing the planet for the sake of commercialism. Doing whatever you can to make money and not caring about the consequences. In my opinion, that’s the only reason they made The Lorax. To make money. They could have used it as an opportunity, as Wall-E did, to make the younger generations, as well as the older ones, think about their actions. Instead it turned it into a whacked out way to get a date complete with IHOP pancake tie-ins. And car ads. And toys. YOu see where this is going??
    For a movie based on a book about doing the right thing to help improve your world, The Lorax fails that same one hundred and fifty seven thousand percent.

  5. We actually saw both movies over the weekend too and I agree 110% with both of your reviews. THE HUNGER GAMES was beautifully done, and I think it captured the whole feeling of the book. THE LORAX was a massive disappointment–not entertaining AND insanely preachy–missing the whole point and feeling of the book.

  6. I LOVED this movie. I am in awe of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance… she NAILED her character. It’s not often that a book adaptation makes me glad I saw the movie – I’m usually disappointed. But this… Oh, this met all my expectations and in some cases, exceeded them.

    The scene before Katniss enters the tube was The Most Riveting part of the movie. She should get the Oscar for that alone.

  7. Jennifer Lawrence was indeed brilliant. And so was Stanley Tucci. And I agree. And I also highly recommend Secret World of Arietty if you go to another kid movie. That’s a film that trusts its audience too.

  8. Hey, Gayle said SPOILERS! I’m OK with the post having SPOILERS! As long as we’ve been WARNED!

    Stephen Colbert made the point that the car the Lorax advertises isn’t even environmentally friendly. As Colbert said, it’s a hybrid…as long as that hybrid is GASO- and -LINE.

  9. I agree with and appreciate everything you wrote about the HG movie and how the movie-makers trust the audience to “get it.” Some of my favorite things are the things they added that we didn’t get to see in the book, like in District 11. However, I wouldn’t really say they “played down” the love triangle, just that they didn’t play it up. The book does a wonderful job of not emphasizing the love triangle, so the movie didn’t really even need to play it down. Either way, all expectations were met and many were exceeded!

  10. I LOVED THIS! I loved HG & I love you! LOL. I would like to say that I am an adult who enjoys reading both kid and teen literature and I’m not “fascinated” by the books as much as I am moved by them. Children’s and young adult books have been telling some of the most heartbreaking, uplifting, inspiring, important stories in our culture for quite some time. But I digress.

    I love everything you said about THE HUNGER GAMES. I cannot wait to take my boyfriend so that I can catch it again! LOL. What an amazing story, a wonderful actress to play our heroine & just storytelling at its best. I, too, cried, Gayle because I was so moved. I couldn’t stop thinking about the scenes of District 11 and 12. Especially during “The Reaping”. Goosebumps!!

    Great post :)

  11. I haven’t read The Hunger Games, but am planning to see the movie this Saturday. I can’t wait! I have no interest in seeing The Lorax. I agree with you that Wall-E was very good.

  12. How can you not get why adults read kid/young adult lit?! (responding to first comment)Obviously you have not read that many ya books. There are so many great writers!! There are so many great books! Like Gayle Forman :) Read it and you will be hooked!!! I find the content and the writing amazing.

  13. Jennifer Lawrence did such a great job portraying Katniss. She really brought her character to life. And while I didn’t love the movie, I did really, really like it.

    Also, Wall-E = Amazing! :)

  14. I agree 100% with everything you said regarding THG. I got so annoyed at a friend who kept rolling her eyes and saying it missed the mark and could have gone deeper. I thought she needed to LOOK deeper.

    As for The Lorax… I read one blog that warned it would be “rainbow barf” and I guess that was correct. I refuse to see it just like I refused to see The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat. Dr Suess books are great because they’re books. The Lorax could have been a good movie, but as soon as I heard it was sponsored by a car (not even an electric car), I knew they’d got it wrong. It hurts to see stories I loved and that mattered to me as a child get this treatment.

    I have big hopes for Brave.

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