Category Archives: Rant

#metoo

August 2016

The Old Fitz Hotel Theatre, Sydney. My second attempt at watching Low Level Panic. A few weeks previously, my first viewing had ended at intermission when I had suddenly come down with a virus. But here I was again, this time ready to see Act 2. Low Level Panic by Clare McIntyre is a powerful masterpiece of theatre showcasing the subtle ways sexism bleeds into society.
As the first act concluded, I turned to ask my companion if he wanted a drink. Instead, I was greeted with the sight of tears streaming down his face.
“What’s wrong?” I was alarmed at this display of emotion. He was crying so hard I had to lead him outside.
“Have I ever made a woman feel like that? Have I ever made YOU feel like that?” He was nearly hysterical.

~

Every woman knows the feeling. A man who just won’t take no for an answer.  Who lingers, leers, follows, gropes, touches, makes some crude remark, licks his lips, asks how much you are…I could go on. And as always, every single time you get harassed or assaulted, it’s the same questions/statements we’ve heard a million times.
What were you wearing?
You must have led him on.
That’s just how guys are.
Lighten up.
How much were you drinking?
Learn to take a compliment.
Come on, you aren’t going to turn him down are you?
Give him a chance.
You were asking for it.
Well what did you think was going to happen?
You shouldn’t have been there/done that.
You’re lying.
You’re just trying to ruin his life.
Have you thought about what this could mean for him?

Even though I have never been raped, I’ve still heard a number of those things. Like every female who has ever existed past present and future, I’ve been hurt by men. I’ve woken up to sexually explicit messages or pictures from strangers.  The last time I dared look at my Others folder on Facebook, there were countless propositions. I’ve been leered at. I’ve been followed by men, sometimes in pairs. In August this year I had my path blocked by a male who later tracked me down at my day job. Just a few days ago, I was doing a corporate event dressed as Elsa with sleazy middle aged men asking for hugs, for me and my female coworker to come do the housework. Guys have made me their little conquest mission to take my virginity. Men have told me I can’t possibly be the manager at work and is there a man they can speak to instead? I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times men have yelled out “SMILE!”
And of course, I’m an actress/singer. An industry rampant with this sort of behaviour as we’ve seen with Harvey Weinstein and countless other disgusting individuals. Without naming anybody, I did my first professional show at 21. During the callbacks, girls were made to give lap dances to the boys. I am not making that up. I never knew lap dances were the way to tell if you can sing, dance and convincingly portray a character. But apparently, that’s considered appropriate behaviour for directors!

The first time I remember a man making me feel uncomfortable, I was about 5. It was someone I’d never met. He kissed my hand and told me how pretty I was. I didn’t even know how to react but I remember feeling scared and embarrassed.
Since then, it’s happened more times than I can count. But here’s my highlight reel, for lack of a better word.

I’m 9. A boy from school chases me around the McDonald’s playground, pins me down and says he wants to kiss me. I kick him off and get away.

I’m 12. My creepy teacher is always trying to get me alone in the classroom with him. Then he invites me to lean against his chest. I say no.

I’m 14. Walking home from school. A group of about ten boys from my class swarm around me in a tight circle. They ask me what my vagina looks like. About my clitoris. About all the boys I’m supposedly sleeping with. Would I ever sleep with them? I’m a desperately shy virgin. Male teacher laughs and tells the boys not to do that again.

I’m 15. Wearing a school uniform. A middle aged tradie wolf whistles at me while he drives by.

I’m 16. A boy in science class gropes me, then follows me onto the school bus and does it again.

I’m 18. A boy at school slips his hand down my uniform and starts sliding my bra off. When I push him away he replies coyly that he’s “Just keeping his hands warm.”

I’m 19. While working, a group of boys in their early twenties point at me and ask my male coworker “Can you ask that girl to show some breast?”

I’m 20. A man slows his car down and shrieks “I’d f*** you!” at me as I walk down the street.

The boy I’ve been dating for almost eighteen months breaks up with me because “Women need to provide sex for men,” and I wasn’t ready.

I’m at my friend’s 21st birthday party. Her grandfather makes a pass at me. Later on he comes to find me and rubs himself against my body. He laughs. People at the party wave it off as him being a dirty old man.

I’m involved in filming a music video. The producer reaches for my chest asking where my boobs are because I’m the only one on the shoot wearing a high necked top.

I’m 21. The only passenger on the bus. The middle-aged driver doesn’t open the door at my stop. He tells me I’m hot. I have to ask him to let me out.

I’m 23. My 46 year old co-worker asks about my sex life. I ask him to stop. He calls me a bitch. He tells me I need to start having sex to get the dicks out of my brain and into my life. I’m called the perpetrator.

A random stranger comes up to me at the train station while I’m reading a book and hugs me. I have to shove him off. He giggles “I like hugging people”. It’s reported, but never followed up.

I’m 24 and trying on swimwear. An old man walks over and asks if he can take over the fitting. The older sales assistant starts lamenting my generation and how we don’t like “those comments” anymore.

I’m walking around the shopping centre/mall dressed as a Christmas Elf for work. A man slips his hand up my skirt.

The #metoo hashtag is surging on social media right now, but this is far from the first time sexual harassment and assault has come into the public eye in the last two years. There was the Stanford case where Brock Turner was given a ridiculously light sentence for sexual assault because he can swim. Prominent members of the entertainment industry have been exposed for the predators they are, predictably leading to shrieks of “THOSE WOMEN ARE LYING”. America currently has an orange self-proclaimed sexual predator in the White House and he of course has no end of defenders in his conduct towards women. This is a man who openly treats women like objects to be defiled and played with, who bragged about sexual assault in that revolting Access Hollywood tape (his victims were mocked with the hashtag #nextfaketrumpvictim), who dismisses women as gold diggers and still became President of the United States. Remind me again how accusations of sexual misconduct will ruin a man’s career? God help us.
Domestic violence is rampant in Australia. One woman every week is killed by a current or former partner and people just shrug and ask “Why didn’t they just leave?”
And of course, everyday sexism is screaming from all directions. We all saw the ridiculous carry-on when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the first female Dr Who. Female politicians are constantly questioned first and foremost on motherhood and fashion choices. Any woman who dares express an opinion online or try to do a job in a “man’s industry” is met with jokes, threats of rape/death and an order to make sandwiches. I’ll probably get a few for writing this blog.

Women have put up with this since the dawn of time and we’re all over it. Instead of teaching girls to not give men the wrong signals or how to prevent being raped, we should be teaching boys how to respect women. Enough is enough.
And yes I know, #notallmen and all that jazz. But if your reaction to any mention of sexism, rape, violence against women or the concept of mansplaining causes you to go into a foaming rage, maybe it’s time to take a look at yourself and think, “Does this make me sound like a Grade A douchebag?”
Catcalling is not a compliment. It’s not funny. It’s threatening and intimidating and it is NEVER ok.

Ladies, keep talking about this. It’s not acceptable in any situation. It was wrong in the 50s and it’s wrong in 2017. Men, call out your friends and co-workers. Be a man and treat females with respect. Not because you have a mother/sister/daughter, but because we’re all human.

And this may come as a shock to the faceless morons on the Internet, but that includes women.

 

 

America, You’ve Let Us Down.

When Australia woke this morning, we heard the inevitable jokes about being in the future and therefore knowing the election results. We ruefully laughed and carried on about our day. But now, we are going to bed knowing that Donald J. Trump is going to be the 45th President of the United States.

I really believed you were better than this, America. That as a nation, you were past the bigotry and hatred this maniac was spewing. We all did. We all wanted to think that there was no way Trump could win. No way.
But you’ve elected him, as the whole world watched in horror.  And make no mistake, we have watched in horror since day one.

We saw Trump call Mexicans ‘rapists’. We saw him advocate for war crimes in the fight against ISIS. We saw his hateful rhetoric against all who disagreed with him. Muslims. Immigrants. The media. We have seen his never-ending misogyny on full and proud display. We saw him declare ‘America First’, conveniently forgetting that America is not the only country in the world. We saw him vow to build a ridiculous border wall and ban Muslims from entering America. We’ve known him to be a revolting human being all along. A scam artist, a narcissist beyond belief who cares only for himself. As each scandal plagued his campaign, we all thought “Surely now he will be derailed and we can see an actual election,”

But it was not to be. However you may try to explain or justify this choice, America, the cold hard fact is that you have elected a racist, bigoted, sexist, dangerous, unqualified, inexperienced, narcissistic, sexual predator as your next president. A man who accepts the endorsement of white supremacists, who openly brags about sexual assault, who hasn’t got a single plan to rule a line never mind a country. You have chosen him over a woman who actually knows the ins and outs of government and the presidency.

Hillary Clinton is not perfect by any means. Personally, I much preferred Bernie Sanders. But she is more qualified on experience and achievements alone than anyone else who has ever run for President.
In the face of this bully, Hillary Clinton bravely faced up to every attack, as she always has for the last 25 years. While the media and Trump were obsessing over her emails, she kept going. When Trump and his cronies tried to blame Hillary for her husband’s behaviour, (which she is NOT responsible for), she held her head high and focused on the issues. She pushed through while suffering pneumonia. She kept her resolve when Trump tastelessly exploited women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. She prepared endlessly for the debates and absolutely wiped the floor with the idiot who isn’t even fit to stand in the same room as her. This is a woman who has fought for healthcare, women and children, and has dedicated her life to the service of her country, regardless of how you feel about her. Whereas Trump has devoted his life to scamming and cheating his way to the top. He serves nobody but himself and he hasn’t got a clue about politics. At least President Eisenhower had leadership experience under his belt; he stared down Hitler for crying out loud!

“Make America Great Again’ was his slogan, without a single concrete plan on how to do so, except by putting America First in every way. The problem with this nationalist rhetoric is that America is NOT the centre of the universe and it never has been.

Trump is proud of his terrible personality. Proud of his hate and downright dangerous ideology. He claims his business success makes him the best choice for the job. You can’t run a country like you do a business, especially when you’ve managed to bankrupt four casinos. I literally don’t know how that is even humanly possible. How do you do that?

I know what people will say. “You’re Australian, what does it matter?” Well, it does matter. America is a global superpower and what they decide affects us all. If World War 3 breaks out because President Trump gets a little offended by a tweet, nuclear weapons will mean that nowhere is safe. And Australia is far from perfect in terms of politics. We’ve gone through five prime ministers since 2007 because our government keep fighting like preschoolers.

We’re all reeling from the decision you’ve made today, America. Despite all the signs, the clear warnings, the seemingly obvious choice of who should be elected, you’ve done your own Brexit. Instead of going forwards, you’ve gone right back. Instead of thinking about what this means for the world, you’ve chosen a despicable human being to lead your country. Whether this is because you just didn’t get out and vote or you actually wanted Donald Trump to be President, there’s no turning back now.

But to the people who voted against Trump, Australia is very nice this time of year.

The arts will survive

Last week I published an article about the recent cuts to funding for creative courses. When I wrote it, it was mainly to get my anger and frustration out on paper, and maybe inspire some emails to the feedback line. What I did not expect was the reaction my writing had.

Within days, it had gone viral in the arts community, shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook alone. My phone was constantly buzzing with new comments, shares, messages from people who had read it, and requests for interviews from reporters. I could barely keep up and was completely overwhelmed that my writing was resonating with people to this degree.
But I wasn’t done there. At the same time, I was frantically emailing the feedback line, and sending emails to my local member and the Minister for Education himself. It took a few days, but I did hear back from him (or his assistant), and I’d like to share with you what I received.

First, my email.

Dear Senator

I am a 24 year old actress working in all aspects of the industry. in light of your recent announcement to VET fee help cuts for creative courses, I would respectfully request that you do not go ahead with the bill.
To say you only wish to help ‘legitimate’ students is highly insulting to us as a whole. Have you ever enjoyed a film, a television show or seen a live performance? Have you ever marvelled at graphic design, or heard a piece of music you liked? Then you sir, have enjoyed the arts. And if you take away more funding, you will contribute to its continual destruction.
The arts of all descriptions are not a ‘lifestyle choice’ as you have claimed. Technically speaking, all careers are a lifestyle choice including the one you have chosen. By this logic I shouldn’t have to repay my current VET fee help debt for my Diploma in Music Theatre because I was not a ‘legitimate student’. But I know that won’t happen. These continual cuts to the arts by your government is what makes finding work hard. 
The arts is the very fabric of society. We hold a mirror up to the world, cause people to think and dream and in a lot of cases, re-examine themselves and become better people. By taking away VET fee help, you will be removing jobs from educators and taking away opportunities for talented individuals. Under these proposals only the very wealthy will be able to pursue their gifts. How in the world will this ‘encourage study’, as you claim? 
The arts teaches empathy, humanity and acceptance of all. We pour our hearts and souls into our work and we do it with the majority of the world fighting us tooth and nail every step of the way. 
Please take a few minutes to read my blog on the matter. 
I thank you for your consideration and welcome any response.
In response, I received this email. I’ve also attached a screenshot (with personal information blacked out for obvious reasons)
Dear Miss (Name)
Thankyou for your email of 17 October 2016 to Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, concerning the exclusion of the Arts from the eligible course list. I have been asked to reply on the Minister’s behalf.
While I appreciate your concerns, the Australian government has a responsibility to ensure that tax payer’s money is well directed and spent in a way that offers the greatest benefit to the Australian community. To this end, access to VET Student Loans will be restricted to courses that have a high national priority, meet industry needs, contribute to addressing skills shortages and align with strong employment outcomes. This will ensure the Government’s investment in vocational education and training is better targeted and large loan amounts are no longer paid for courses that have limited public good.
The eligible course list is available on the Department of Education and Training’s website at http://www.education.gov.au/vet−student−loans. Stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on the composition of the eligible course list. 
Feedback must be sent to VETStudentLoansPeducation.gov.au by 23 October 2016 and entitled ‘Feedback on the eligible course list’.
Please bear in mind that any proposals regarding VET Student Loans are subject to the passage through Parliament of the VET Student Loans Bill 2016.
Thank you for taking the time to write to the Minister.
2016-10-23 13.07.18.png
Do you need a minute after reading it? I know I did.
I don’t know how people can make it any plainer to the powers that be. But a few things are clear to me and anyone else with a functioning brain.

1. They have not thought this through.

“Limited public good”. That’s the words they used. That proves that they do not see the arts for what they truly are, and when it’s explained to them, they still do not see the value and probably wouldn’t until there was no art. They seem indifferent to being responsible for the decline of jobs and the value art brings to society.
Imagine a world with no movies, tv shows, radio, paintings, art galleries, designs, jewellery, graphics, musicals, plays, music, anything creative. You can stop imagining now. I know I can’t bear to think of it for more than a few seconds. There’s little doubt in my mind that society would soon cease to function as it does. As I said, without art, life has no meaning.
Imagine for a moment that the government called sports a ‘lifestyle choice’ and referred to it as an illegitimate occupation.

angrymob

Artists impression

There would be a riot. National outcry. Everyone would be disgusted. Because in this country sport is practically a religion. What if everyone in Australia could embrace the arts like they do the football? Or cricket? Or the Olympics? I suspect the country would be a much better place.
Several years ago Australian acting legend Tony Sheldon was up for a Tony Award for his performance in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. An Australian actor. An Australian musical based on a beloved Australian classic. He was up for  a TONY AWARD, the Oscars of theatre, and we did not hear one peep about it from the media.
What if a sports star was up for some award, for throwing pieces of leather around while a stadium screams for blood? We would hear nothing else for weeks.
Tony Sheldon, who I had the honour of meeting briefly during the 2013 run of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, was playing Bernadette Bassenger, a transgender character so rarely seen and definitely in pop culture at that time. When’s the last time one of our own was up for a Tony Award? Why didn’t this honour get any attention? It was a tremendous achievement!

2. They are attempting to do good by attacking the wrong people.

The main reason these cuts are being made is allegedly to stop sub-par courses taking advantage of students. I want to make one thing very clear. I am not against the idea of this. What I am against is the disrespect shown to the arts and the fact that quality courses are inevitably going to get caught in the crossfires here. Places like the Actor’s Centre Australia. Founder Dean Carey has built this college up for nearly 30 years to bring arguably the finest acting course in the nation, as well as part time courses, workshops and drop-in classes for working actors. Hugh Jackman himself graduated from here and is the proud patron.
I do not understand why genuinely good courses are going to be penalised. Furthermore, the people in charge of this decision have not consulted a single person in the industry itself while ultimately deciding the fate of so many. What is wrong with these politicians?

Colleges are going to have to rework their courses and get extra credentials in order to keep going and make the courses affordable. Educators are going to suffer. Students are going to suffer. The industry will suffer.

But we will not fall.

At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, the arts will survive. They survived the Holocaust and Soviet Russia. They survive communism and fascism. They survive indifference and disrespect. They survive budget cuts and limited funding. Because at the end of the day, art is what makes the world a better place.
The bill will likely pass parliament, and we will have to regroup. And we will. We will find a way forward until people see the light. Nothing lasts forever. And as long as artists push ahead with what they do, breaking the barriers and holding a mirror up to society, we will win.

Because

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see” – Edgar Degas

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls…The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web,” -Pablo Picasso

“It is through art, and through art only, that we can realise our perfection.” – Oscar Wilde

“Layer by layer art strips life bare,” – Robert Musil

I just wonder how much longer it will take for those blind politicians to see art for what it is.

So, we artists are no longer ‘legitimate’.

I haven’t been this furious in a long time, and I’m loathe to use my blog to comment on politics. But not today. With the recent announcement that our fearless leader plans to scrap student loans to creative courses, this might be the angriest blog I will ever write and I am not even sorry.

By all means, if you don’t know about this outrage, click here and feel your blood pressure skyrocket. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Finished?

Now where the hell do I begin?

The Minister for Education and Training says that this is a “lifestyle choice”. Well guess what buddy? ALL CAREERS ARE A LIFESTYLE CHOICE, INCLUDING POLITICS. That’s right kids, follow your dreams, pursue your gifts and talents, but don’t even think about the creative side of life, that’s just a hobby.

The Minister goes on to say that “VET Student Loans will only support legitimate students to undertake worthwhile and value-for-money courses at quality training providers,”

Excuse me while I go throw up.

hadesrage

The gloves are coming off, pal.

So, we artists are not “legitimate students.”
Our profession will not “benefit Australia economically”.
You want to “encourage students to study”….by taking away opportunities for the next Hugh Jackman, Jackie Weaver or Tony Sheldon, to name a few?

First of all, do you have any idea how economically viable the arts are? Of course not, because you’re far more interested in raising your own salaries, spending millions on detention centres and giving the sports industry every cent they crave. You made even MORE cuts to hundreds of art forms recently, in turn GETTING RID OF VALUABLE JOBS and that STILL isn’t enough for you. Now you turn your blowtorch onto students, universities and educators (yeah, remember them?) who are the ones that are going to pay for your disgusting arrogance.
To call us not ‘legitimate students isn’t just offensive. It’s not just insulting. It is an affront to our whole profession. And yes, it IS a profession, despite what the naysayers bray.

By your logic, I don’t need to repay my current student debt for my Diploma of Music Theatre, because in your mind, I wasn’t a real student. That would make my life a hell of a lot easier as I audition in a world of star casting and the never ending cuts to my industry made by you idiots. Sorry, I can’t even be polite about this. They are dragging the very soul of society, because that is exactly what the arts are.
So we aren’t legitimate. We don’t contribute to society, you say?
Tell that to the acting students who spend hours upon hours after classes are done every single day on pieces of theatre which can cause people to re-examine their entire lives.
Tell that to the actors who learn empathy and human behaviour by creating characters. Tell that to the painters who pour their hearts into their artworks. Tell that to the makers of the film Blood Diamond, who used the film medium to draw attention to the issue of the diamond trade and caused a worldwide demand for conflict free diamonds. Tell that to the dancers who work their bodies into oblivion doing pointe work. Tell that to the cruise ship performers who uproot their entire lives for 6-9 months at a time, often relocating to the other side of the world just to bring joy to others. Tell that to the musicians who invest years into their chosen instruments, getting calluses and vocal fatigue so they can perform at your stupid political events, and often for free.

And tell that to me, a 24 year old actress two years out of studying who just completed an eight month contract performing theatre in education in schools around the country. Oh yeah, did you forget? Art teaches people. In this case, I was fighting the bullying epidemic on the front lines. Talk about how ‘illegitimate’ my work is to the children who came up to me after these shows in tears, saying that they now could see that they had the power to stop bullying, or sharing their stories of abuse with me.
But my work is a ‘lifestyle choice’, according to you, Minister for Education. Hilarious how as a minister for education, you are doing everything in your power to prevent it. You honestly think it’s easy, memorising 9, yes, nine different plays to perform on any given day, at any given time, in any possible combination, in any possible location at a moment’s notice? Nobody expects you to memorise every ridiculous speech you give. I’d like to see you political bigwigs educate children through theatre without talking down to them. Let’s watch as you keep your energy at the right level, never let it drop, all the while being focused on the story, your co-actor and the audience. All the while you have to be entertaining so they don’t lose focus, but never let it get out of hand and always, always, always focusing on delivering your message in a way they can interpret and apply to their own lives. And I am able to do this because of the training I received. Which was only possible because of VET fee help.
At the same time, I was constantly away from my home. My family. My partner. My dogs. My world. I put a lot of things in my life on hold because I believed in the message I was being paid to spread. To hear this utter BS about how this is not ‘legitimate’ causes more rage than I can describe.

And what about the other sides of the industry? Like theatre and musical theatre, some of the most underrated arts forms in existence. Why is it that we only ever seem to get the same old revivals of Annie and The Lion King? The masterpiece that is Next to Normal, about mental illness, was pulled just weeks before it was due to premiere in Sydney. It was cast, rehearsed, designed. How many productions will need to get cancelled of Jekyll and Hyde before we finally see it? Why was the Imported Artist Agreement not renewed, taking away opportunities for Australian artists? The current production of Aladdin has two Broadway performers. My Fair Lady brought people from the West End. Other productions like Wicked and Anything Goes cast non-actors in lead roles. Several years ago, while exceptional performers were on call for roles in Rocky Horror, the producers sought to cast people with at least 10,000 Twitter followers. No joke.

Of course, Matilda is doing very well. “Matilda is just what Australian musical theatre needs!” all the reviews crowed. But let’s look a little closer. Matilda, written in 2010, premiered on the West End in 2011. It’s written by the great Tim Minchin. By the way, he’s Australian. It’s based on a beloved book and movie, and was a smash hit in both London and on Broadway.

Why did it take five years to come to Australia?

Seriously, think about it. Tim Minchin is an iconic figure in our ever-shrinking arts industry. Matilda is by Roald Dahl, one of the number 1 children’s authors out there. Nearly every kid has read the book or seen the movie. From a business point of view, there’s pretty much no way in the world it could fail. And leaving the financial side out of it, this is still a fantastic piece.
Nobody in this country outside of our industry seems willing to bring out new and exciting theatre. Or heaven forbid, invest in our OWN pieces. Ever heard of The Hatpin? Or LoveBites? Yes, those are two wonderful contemporary Australian musicals you’ve never heard of.
When a successful Broadway/West End production finally jogs sweatily behind the bandwagon and arrives on our shores years later, it’s normally an exact replica of the original stagings.We’re rarely allowed to direct freely or come up with original designs. Of course we get the odd exception. Like my old nemesis Love Never Dies. Remember that trainwreck of a show? You know, the show Broadway rejected? The one that’s STILL not gone anywhere? The one with a terrible script, and insults the audience and characters every second? Millions of dollars were burned into trying to make that show worth looking at. Hundreds of invited, and non-paying patrons flooded into the Capitol Theatre and patted themselves on the back for supporting the arts, when every waking minute seems bent on destroying the entire industry. And I have just about reached my breaking point.

Of course, we have independent theatre companies like Squabbalogic and Sport for Jove, truly brilliant companies that bring exciting, fresh and innovative theatre. But they struggle for funding.

Where’s the government support for them, if they are so brilliant? It’s nowhere. And it’s independent theatre that’s saving the industry right now.

We pour our hearts and souls into our work and we do it all with the majority of the world patting us condescendingly on the head and saying “Isn’t that cute?”
We do it every day knowing we are setting ourselves up for rejection. We do it knowing that we are being critiqued on our looks and marketability. We do it knowing there is no guarantee of success. We do it knowing our country’s government and culture is fighting us tooth and nail every step of the way. But we do it because that one “yes” makes it all worth it. We do it because we believe in the arts. We do it because we’re courageous and make the hard choices that society needs to keep moving. We do it because we want to make a hat, where there never was a hat. We do it because without the arts, life has no meaning. And you are selling everything we do short.

Before I wrap up, I want to plead with everybody in the industry, and everyone who loves the arts to flood the email feedback line with emails. We have GOT to fight this. Contact the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Don’t take this lying down. It’s time to stand up for the industry because without us, we wouldn’t have one. Click this link (VETStudentLoans@education.gov.au) and let loose at them. We only have until October 23rd.
Let’s begin.

 

Disaster Films: Maleficent

Right now I’m on tour, performing theatre in schools around the country. Touring is a mixed blessing. It’s a great job, but you are away from home a lot. You have to get used to moving constantly and I can’t say living out of a suitcase is the most ideal of clothing situations. But on the plus side, I’m doing what I love, I’m travelling and I’m getting to meet a lot of really incredible kids.

Two weeks ago, while in my motel room, I discovered the joys of Foxtel Disney. So many classics at my fingertips! I watched Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Big Hero 6, Beauty and the Beast….I was in heaven.

And then Maleficent came on.

Maleficent trailer

Don’t be fooled by the smile. This movie is AWFUL.

When I heard about Maleficent, I was entirely indifferent. She was a cool villain but Sleeping Beauty wasn’t my favourite Disney movie and I hadn’t seen it in years. Plus, looking at the trailers it was painfully obvious that they were trying to rip off Wicked. As a result, I didn’t see it.
But last year I re-visited Sleeping Beauty and found myself quite enjoying it. Well, aspects of it anyway. The side characters are great fun, the fairies are wonderful, the climax is one of Disney’s best and Maleficent is a PHENOMENAL villain. She doesn’t have a lot of motivation, but the lengths she’ll go to seek revenge are so high you can’t help but be riveted. She’s given a perfect amount of air time. So why did she need her own film?
Short answer, she didn’t.
Long answer….? Well, I advise you to get comfortable. There’s a fair bit to talk about.

And by the way, there will be spoilers.

wasteofcelluloid.jpg

God shoot me. What a waste of celluloid.

In the film, Maleficent is given a backstory that will likely send any fan of the original animated film into a foaming rage. Or maybe that was just me. Anyway, apparently as a child Maleficent lived in the forest on the edge of an evil kingdom (why is it evil? Never explained. Does it have any real impact or necessity to the story? Nope). She had wings and fell in love with a young boy named Stefan. Years later, Stefan has become corrupt with ambition (you’re not fooling me, movie. I know he’s going to grow up to be Aurora’s father and I am spoiling that with no shame whatsoever) and Maleficent is the official guardian of the Moors. Stefan is told if he kills Maleficent he will take the throne. Apparently this is all the reason he needs to kill the woman he loved for years, but he can’t bring himself to do it and instead cuts off her wings. This scene is meant to be subtle in its symbolism, but it’s about as subtle as a stab in the eye with a salad fork. Have fun explaining that scene to your kids.
Stefan takes power, and you know what happens next. He doesn’t invite Maleficent to the christening out of spite (strike one in continuity, originally it was just an oversight), she turns up and curses the baby, the three fairies take the baby into hiding, you know it.

The scene at the christening is so rife with idiotic mistakes I can only do one of my lists.

  1. The three fairies were Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. Not Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle.
  2. Flora and Fauna gave Aurora the gifts of beauty and song, not whatever they gave her in the remake.
  3. Maleficent curses the baby to DIE when she pricks her finger, not fall asleep
  4. Merryweather was the fairy who softened the curse from death to sleeping until true love’s kiss.
  5. Maleficent’s raven is actually a human? ….What?

That’s just the christening scene. What follows is an affront to art itself.
Apparently Maleficent ALWAYS knows where Aurora is. She follows her around and gains Aurora’s trust. They actually have a friendship. Eventually Maleficent doesn’t want the girl to die and tries to revoke the curse, then cause Prince Phillip to kiss her.
Do I even need to explain why this is beyond stupid?

Maleficent isn’t the only character who got shredded to pieces in this movie. Everyone did. Especially the fairies.

maleficent-fairies

Holy Tinkerbell, Disney. What were you thinking?

In Sleeping Beauty, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are some of the most likeable comedic characters the studio has ever produced. They’re memorable, unique and a lot of fun. They get plenty of laughs, but they also have a lot of intelligence, resourcefulness and bravery.
Here, Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle (ugh!) are dumber than a pile of bricks. They spend most of the film bickering, getting into fistfights and straight up neglecting the kid they’re supposed to be protecting. Because that’s what we all wanted to see, right? The three fairies as idiotic morons with juvenile antics bordering on teenage girl drama. Good grief, this is some of the worst character development I have ever seen. It’s downright insulting to the original film. And there is absolutely no reason for it.

In Sleeping Beauty, King Stefan and King Hubert were really charming. In Maleficent, King Hubert doesn’t even exist and Stefan is just a run of the mill douchebag. To make things worse, actor Sharlto Copley’s performance reminds me of a train wreck at an excruciatingly slow pace.

I’ve never been president of the Princess Aurora Fan Club and the way she’s portrayed here doesn’t help. If anything, I dislike the character more. She keeps having ‘girl talk’ conversations with Maleficent and stupidly believes Maleficent to be her fairy godmother.

comparison

Because that’s totally what I would think too.

Of course, she finds out the truth and runs away in fear, but as soon as she wakes up, she somehow doesn’t care that Maleficent tried to doom her to a fate worse than death. She smiles sweetly and even helps to take down her own father.
Oh, and with the whole ‘true love’s kiss’? Yeah, they try to put a stupid twist on that too. I won’t spoil it here but let’s just say you can see it doing the fan dance from a mile off. It’s also stupid beyond all reason.

This movie, as a whole, is so unnecessary it’s laughable. Like Cars 2, Cars 3, or Monster’s UniversityMaleficent didn’t need to be made. It’s trying to be Wicked without trying anything new or creative. On the contrary, it seems hell bent on extracting anything we liked about these characters to begin with. We don’t need to see a good Maleficent. She’s a wonderful villain. The three fairies were brilliant, they don’t need to be degraded to this point. The kings were fun, why make him the villain?
Wicked worked because it was carefully constructed. It was well written. It had great characters to disguise any flaws in the story. The music was wonderful and to be fair, it was pretty much the first time we’d seen anything like it. Taking a story we thought we knew and giving us a fresh perspective was something that hadn’t really been done before. But it wasn’t trying to change Wizard of Oz. It was paying homage to the imagination and wonder of a classic and it knew exactly where to focus the drama and comedy. Maleficent doesn’t do this. It’s dark, depressing, pretty insulting to the original and overall just trying to cash in on what Wicked did so well.
But what shocked me the most was when the credits started rolling. At first, this was cause for momentary celebration until the writer was named.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the screenwriter for Maleficent was Linda Woolverton, the writer of Beauty and the Beast, arguably Disney’s best animated fairytale, and The Lion King. The Lion King!!!!

alice-face-palm-featured

She also wrote Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. What else is there to say?

How did she sink to this level? She goes from writing Disney’s finest, to sinking below the bottom of the barrel. What happened? How did this script ever get approved without someone saying “Hang on, are we taking a blowtorch to a classic?” I’ll never know. Some mysteries in life are best left unsolved.

I probably hate this movie a lot more than it deserves. I can’t say it’s a bad influence or saying anything morally wrong. I just really can’t stand it when Hollywood comes along and tries to butcher a really great film. Especially when it does well commercially because it just encourages the trend of making worse and worse entertainment.

Sadly, Maleficent’s success at the box office has led to the announcement of a sequel. This means once again, the Mistress of All Evil is going to be whitewashed into a misunderstood antihero. And I’m going to be sitting at home, drinking champagne, watching Sleeping Beauty and seeing Maleficent as she should be portrayed.

And I advise you all to do the same.

CATS

There are some things in life that we as a species will never understand. Why is Family Guy still on? Why are there $2 fees at ATMs? Why do telemarketers always ring during dinner?

For me I will never understand, til the day I die, how on earth CATS ran for 18 years.

It may seem obvious, but I’m not a fan of this show. At all. I don’t think much of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s contribution to musical theatre is anything to scream about, with a few exceptions. I’ll always love Phantom, and Tell Me On A Sunday will remain a beloved part of my personal vocal repertoire.

But CATS, upon its recent return to Australia, having last played in 2014, seemed to reignite the flames of debate, of whether this is a beloved musical theatre classic or deserves to be shot. The casting of pop star Delta Goodrem in the iconic role of Grizabella caused more than a few raised eyebrows in the music theatre community. Once opening night rolled around and reports of a rapping Rum Tum Tugger appeared, the purists emerged from their ivory towers to cry sacrilege on fixing what was never broken.

Sorry, purists. This show is not only broken, it’s shattered into a million pieces and scattered to the four corners of the earth. It’s an unholy mess. It’s one of those musicals where I just shake my head and ask “How?”
How did this show run for 18 years?
How did it sweep the Tony Awards?
How did it win Best Musical? Best BOOK?!?

So, how did CATS all come about?
Well, the entire show is based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by the great T.S Eliot. It’s a collection of very creative poems about, what else, cats! It’s nothing phenomenal but it’s good harmless fun. Apparently, as a child, it was one of Webber’s favourites. And just to get this out of the way, there’s nothing wrong with adapting a childhood classic into a musical (Seussical, anyone?). It’s how you do it that makes or breaks it.
No, this is not a review of the current Sydney production. I suffered through this exercise in egomania once and not a lot could entice me to willingly sit through it again.
I’m not going to sit here and claim that CATS is destroying the source material. It’s not. And the poetry does lend itself to the musical theatre medium, but I’ll get to the music later. What I’m doing here is analysing the musical as part of the genre, and why I don’t think it works as a musical, to say the least.

munkustrap.jpg

Here’s your first hint

CATS is a curious case. It’s so awful, it’s actually kind of fascinating. There are times where I wonder whether it can legally be termed a musical, since most musicals have storylines and characters.
CATS does not possess these. See, T.S Eliot’s estate actually forbade the inclusion of a story and this is where things start to go wrong.
You can pretty much summarise the plot of CATS in five words. Weird creatures dance on junkyard. And that concludes our synopsis. I bet we’re going to be in for a wild ride here.
As the show opens, the audience is introduced to the Jellicle tribe. The cats dance around the stage and sing about all the wonderful and pointless things the Jellicle cats can do. And they’re also not kind enough to explain what the heck they are.
Clearly, these cats are not traditional felines, and they aren’t human. So….what are they? Where did they come from? What is their purpose? No? Nothing? Hello, confused audience here? ….Seriously?

Oh, they’ll happily tell you off as an audience for not knowing what they are. I’m dead serious. The following are actual lyrics from the end of the opening number.

There’s a man over there with a look of surprise
As much as to say well now how about that?
Do I actually see with my own very eyes
A man who’s not heard of a jellicle cat?
What’s a jellicle cat?
What’s a jellicle cat? (They repeat this 5 more times)

For a second you think they might actually tell you, but instead they launch into a rather creepy song about how they get their names. I don’t care how you get your names, I want to know what on earth you….things are!
And when they tell you how they get named, they don’t actually single out any cat so they have an identity. No, it’s just a list, a roll call of sorts, and it goes on forever. Actually, all the songs go on forever. WIth no dialogue, no story and nothing to hold your attention, I suppose it’s only fitting that they need to have something to extend the ‘action’ on stage. But there’s extending, and there’s pointless padding, which this musical has in spades. Every single song goes on for well over four minutes. Every. Single. Song. And remember how I said there’s literally no dialogue? I hope you have a comfortable seat, because things get boring fast.

As soon as the estate said a story was not to be included, this SHOULD have been a major red flag. Maybe, just maybe, musical theatre runs best when there is a flowing narrative.
I’ve had some fans try to tell me that the show is a song cycle. NO. Songs for a New World is a song cycle. Edges is a song cycle. CATS is not a song cycle. They’re clearly trying to tell something here, and with the restrictions placed on the production, it’s just not possible to make it the least bit interesting.

cats-cast

Great, you’re dancing again. Now will you please DO SOMETHING?

So there’s no story. Well, maybe the characters can be fun and bring some life to the proceedings? I think you give this show way too much credit. There’s about a much personality in these characters as a rice cake. The general ensemble of cats don’t even get much of a chance at development or identity so they all sort of blend together, and the cats that do get songs are rarely seen again. They aren’t even that important in the grand scheme of things. And you know what? When the show opened on Broadway, the cast was very confused about what they were doing.
When your own cast has no idea what’s going on, you’ve really run into trouble.

Despite being forbidden to have a storyline, there’s still a few laughable attempts at creating some kind of narrative. Macavity shows up occasionally, and for some reason the cats are disgusted by Grizabella’s presence, though neither “plot threads” are ever actually given any motivation or justification.
Macavity is allegedly the antagonist, though a presence is barely established. Don’t try to tell me that the less you see the better. That only works if there’s a build up to the climax, and there’s ZERO build up here. Macavity isn’t even mentioned until he first appears in the shadows with an evil laugh. They never say why Macavity is so evil or what his problem is with everyone else. He isn’t talked about, foreshadowed, and the song about him tells us very little. The most you glean is “he’s not there!”
*sigh* Two things.
1. What kind of criminal hangs around at the crime scene?  Do you honestly expect that?
2. These “crimes” Macavity is committing are little more than harmless pranks. And frankly he doesn’t seem scary to begin with so I have trouble believing he’d be pulling off anything worth worrying about.
The bottom line is, Macavity is a useless antagonist. He never seems a legitimate threat to anyone. So….WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THIS GUY? Just a half baked attempt to put another pointless song in? That’s pretty weak.
Oh, Grizabella. Nice to see you suddenly appear for no reason into the plot. Oh, that’s right. We need to pretend there’s something going on other than dancing. Grizabella is an old grey cat, who was apparently once glamourous, but she isn’t anymore, and for some reason the Jellicle tribe hates her. She only comes on to get ridiculed before singing sadly and leaving. Le sigh. You could take her out of the show and you’d really not have a major difference. But of course, she sings that one song and everyone swoons.
And I’m just going to say this now. Memory can go die. In a fire.

Grizabella

My face throughout the entire show

This is definitely not a case of the music saving a show, like Chess or RENT. The songs for CATS are sub-par at best, even for Andrew Lloyd Webber. There’s song after song after song with no purpose. Pretty much the only thing you can get from these songs is that these are nominees for the Heavyside Layer. Riveting.
Normally I might not mind this. After all, Spring Awakening‘s score comments on the action rather than driving it forward, but like I said before, these cats are rarely seen again. They are not consequential. And from the second Grizabella staggers onto the stage, you know she’s going to be the one chosen.
By the way, what exactly is the Heavyside Layer? Yeah, they aren’t going to tell you that either.
For me, this is the most fascinating thing about CATS. And by fascinating, I mean fascinatingly bad. This show spends the entire running time explaining everything, and never actually manages to explain anything at all. Grizabella and Macavity are one thing, but what about the other questions that are never answered? What’s the Heavyside Layer? What are these things? What is going on? Why should I care? Can I stop watching now, please?

CATS is a marvel. Truly a gift to bad theatre. There’s just nothing here. Nothing to like. Nothing to be interested in. Nothing to care about, nothing to hold your attention.
I will give the cast a huge amount of credit, because to get through this show you need to be a superhuman. And the choreography is impressive, but after about ten minutes the sheen wears off and you crave something more.
The only reason this show won so many awards is because of Webber’s involvement. It was made at the height of his reign as King of Musical Theatre, so audiences were willing to swallow anything regurgitated onto the stage. It’s a dancer’s show, so it was kind of a new idea, and I’ve heard it referred to as the first ‘concept’ musical, though what ‘concept’ it was I would love to know. I can’t even give it the excuse of being style over substance. This isn’t like Love Never Dies, where I can at least understand people being sucked in by pretty visuals. See what you’ve done, CATS? You nearly made me justify Paint Never Dries. Bad kitty.

If you like CATS, fine. Go ahead and like it. And if you think it has a storyline or legitimate answers to any of the questions raised, then please tell me. I am beyond curious. I’m praying for the day the industry finally wakes up and realises that Australia needs and deserves better quality musical theatre, not just endless revivals of the same dull shows that aren’t even that great to begin with. Until then, and possibly after, I’m tossing this kitty litter out into the cold where it belongs.

 

Seuss on Screen Part 4: The Lorax

A 12-year-old boy searches for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams. To find it, he must discover the story of the Lorax, the grumpy yet charming forest creature who fights to protect his world,”

Ladies and gentlemen, those few above words
Make my ears scream in agony from what they’ve just heard.
The Lorax, a Seuss adaptation of late,
Brings no other emotion inside me but hate
Hate for this film and for what they have done,
But people still watched it, and it cashed in a ton.
Without further ado and no minimus morax,
My name is AbStar. And this is The Lorax

What you read above is the description on the DVD of 2012’s The Lorax. Produced and distributed by Illumination Entertainment and Universal, The Lorax was a huge financial success, raking in $348 million at the box office. It’s the second of the full-length animated feature films based on Ted Geisel’s work and the fourth film overall. The financial success led to announcements of future animated films of The Grinch and Cat in the Hat. It also led to myself and other Seuss devotees cringing in fear as to what new level of insult these movies could set to such a great writer’s work. But for now, I’m ripping apart The Lorax.

Before launching into this rant of epic proportions, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. The Lorax is NOT the worst of the Seuss films. Cat in the Hat wins that trophy hands down. The Lorax has some elements that almost work, and I’ll get to those. But it’s easily the Seuss movie I have the harshest feelings towards, and it’s the one that makes me the saddest. Why is this? Let’s look at the source material.

the-lorax
The Lorax was written in 1971 and is easily the darkest of Dr Seuss’ books. There’s little if any of his trademark whimsical humour and bright colours. In the book, a young nameless boy living in a polluted city visits the Once-ler, a mysterious reclusive creature who knows the story of the Lorax, and the mystery of why there are no trees in the town. The Once-ler reveals he chopped down the Truffula trees years ago in order to make Thneeds, an absurdly versatile invention. All the while, the Once-ler is at odds with the Lorax, who tries to warn him of the dangers.
Interestingly, the book is told through two narrators. The beginning and ending of the book is the second person, making the reader the nameless child, which creates a very powerful image, especially in the conclusion. Again, this will be important later. The majority of the story is narrated by the Once-ler in first person, essentially making the antagonist the protagonist like the Grinch.
The Lorax was Dr Seuss’ personal favourite of his books. “The Lorax,” he said “came out of my being angry. In The Lorax I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might.”
Like many others, I believe The Lorax is one of the best children’s books ever written. It’s engaging, uncompromisingly grim and very adult in theme. As usual with Seuss’ writing, it never panders to the children. But what I love most about the book is how it DOESN’T knock you over the head with an environmental message. It doesn’t paint black and white extremes. It’s simply a cautionary tale about greed, both corporate and personal. It’s not my all-time favourite Seuss book (nothing will ever beat Oh! The Places You’ll Go!) but it’s definitely in my top 3.

Unlike other books, The Lorax actually does lend itself to a movie. It’s very story driven, it has great characters in the Once-ler and the Lorax, there’s so much subtlety and weight to the message. And yes, there is a good animated special from 1972 with a teleplay and lyrics by Seuss himself, who also produced. The animated special goes more in depth of the Once-ler debating himself about the pollution his factory is causing and shows the argument of economics and employment. Sure, it’s a bit dated now, but it still holds up as a much better adaptation than the….thing I’m about to review.

Actually, it’s not so much a review as opposed to a beatdown. Rather than simply going beginning to end, I’m instead going to look at the elements of the movie and compare to both the book and the animated special. Is this unfair, especially considering my mantra that changes are necessary in adaptation to new mediums? Well, no. Because I can tolerate changes and even like them if they serve the base story and respect the source material. The changes made here are an abomination. There’s not one shred of respect to Seuss’ writing or to the target audience.

Comparison #1: Setting and new characters.

The problems in the movie become dazzlingly clear from the very beginning. In the film, the book’s nameless boy becomes 12 year old Ted (get it? That’s Dr Seuss’ real name!) and he lives in a town called Thneedville. Very clever. Allow me to give you a visual comparison of these settings. This is what the town in the book looks like.

town

This is what Thneedville looks like in the film.

thneedville

You starting to see the problem here?

As opposed to the desolate wasteland in the book, Ted is living in a plastic paradise. Everything is artificial and there are no trees. They literally sing an upbeat tune about how much they love living this way.

‘In Thneedville we love living this way/It’s like living in paradise/It’s perfect and that’s how it will stay/Here in love-the-life-we-leadville’.

I can’t type out any more lyrics. It’s all in the same vein and it just hurts. This is where the message starts getting skewed. By putting Ted in this place, the movie removes all weight of the consequences of the Once-ler, because there are none to begin with. There’s no urgency, no darkness, and no reason for anybody to want to change things. Humans are very happy to live like this, buying fresh air and running fake trees on battery power. Ugh.
Yes, I know they’re being ironic and this could potentially be the forerunner to a big character arc but it’s not. And it’s going to come back and bite them later in the movie.

Ted, by the way, is voiced by Zac Efron. That’s right, a 26 year old man is voicing a 12 year old. It’s about as lazy and out of place as you can imagine. This, sadly, is only the first in a long line up of bad voice acting.

So, with absolutely no reason whatsoever for Ted to go search for the Once-ler, again sucking out the impact of a boy going of his own volition, the movie instead gives him the most selfish motivation you could possibly give a character. See, there’s a pretty girl next door named Audrey (named after Seuss’ still-living widow) who loves to paint, and wishes to see a real tree for her birthday.

tedandaudrey.jpg

Meet Bland and Blander.

Yes, you read that correctly. Ted goes in search of a tree to basically get in a girl’s pants. Not to make the world better. So faithful to the original story!

Like Ted, Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift) was born without a personality. They’re about the most boring characters you can imagine, lazily written to the extreme, which is not helped by the bad voice acting. It’s obvious they were picked for the names and not for the credibility of their performances. They’re given nothing to work with either. Their “relationship” and “romance” is not interesting or fun, and you don’t care about them.

But maybe the side characters can be fun. How do the rest of Thneedville pan out?
Ted’s mother is even less interesting than the mother in Cat and the Hat, the townspeople make no impact whatsoever and only feature in the stupid musical numbers. And what was with that delivery guy’s voice? A big tough masculine man with a high pitched tenor? It’s the most jarring one heard in the film.

Then we have Ted’s Grammy Norma (Betty White, who adds some form of dignity despite the script) who advises Ted to go find the Once-ler.

This is a hugely missed opportunity. Grammy Norma could have been a serene figure who nurtured Ted’s curiosity. She could have been the only one in town to remember trees (apparently she is, but it’s only revealed in a single line. At the end of the movie). She doesn’t even need to necessarily be alive. Maybe Ted could have grown up hearing her stories. Maybe he’s just remembering her. Maybe he finally found the guts to go find the Once-ler himself, having seen the destruction of Thneedville. It practically writes itself. But no, she’s just an energetic, snowboarding senior citizen who is happy to sit around smiling as Aloysius “Did-I-Mention-I’m-The-Antagonist” O’Hare takes over the town.

O'hare1

“I’m Frankenstein’s head on a spider’s body! I’m also a complete and utter waste of animation,”

You’ve never heard of Aloysius O’Hare, you say? Well, nobody has because he was completely made up for the movie. And he’s easily the worst character added. Aside from poor Rob Riggle being forced to make something of a completely one-dimensional character, he has a stupid design ripped off from Shrek and The Incredibles, and no redeeming features whatsoever. He’s just the evil head of the evil corporation that runs the town, selling oxygen to people since the air is too polluted (by the way, where is the oxygen coming from if there are no trees? They never answer that). He apparently monitors the town constantly. There is no reason for this. Nobody is interested in trees aside from Audrey.
O’Hare hates trees because they make oxygen for free. That’s his motivation. Money, money, money. Much like the producers of this film. He never seems the least bit threatening as an antagonist. And what’s more, Dr Seuss deliberately avoided this type of character in his book. Why? Because the idea behind The Lorax is that there is no villain. Speaking of which, the Once-ler is due to appear any minute. This is by far the most depressing aspect of the movie. The story of The Lorax is treated as a mere annoyance. The movie is way more interested in Thneedville than, you know, the actual plot, and it’s as boring as you can imagine. It goes beyond mere laziness. It’s actually sickening. Don’t believe me? They directly mock and alter Dr Seuss’ writing. Not once, but TWICE.

The first such occurrence comes when Audrey is describing Truffula trees to Ted. The original text is provided for purposes of sticking it to the writers in every way possible. (Warning: this is really going to hurt)

EXHIBIT A
Original text
But those trees! Those trees!
Those Truffula Trees!
All my life I’d been searching for trees such as these.
The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk
And they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk

Movie dialogue
Audrey: And they even smelled like butterfly milk.
Ted: Wow….what does that even mean?
Audrey: I know, right?

No, dear reader. That is not a joke. They literally just mocked the writing of the author they claim to fight so hard for. This is a new low for these movies to sink.

EXHIBIT B
Original text

At the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows
And the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
And no birds ever sing excepting old crows
Is the street of the Lifted Lorax

Movie dialogue
Grammy Norma: Far outside of town where the grass never grows

What, may I ask, is wrong with Grickle-grass, writers? It’s not copyrighted, you’re making a movie. And for the record, the grass doesn’t grow in Thneedville anyway. What’s the difference of grass not growing outside town?!?

When Ted shows up at the Once-ler’s Lerkim, the Once-ler isn’t interested in telling the story, even though Ted has the correct payment, like in the book. You had to bring 15 cents, a nail, and the shell of a great-great-great grandfather snail. If Ted didn’t bring these items, it would make sense that the Once-ler would tell him to beat it. But he did, so telling Ted to buzz off doesn’t make sense.

Ok, ok, that’s a serious nitpick. Moving on. Let’s look at the Once-ler himself.

Comparison #2: Characterisation and story arc

In the book and the animated special, this is all you ever see of the Once-ler.

good onceler

Right

In the movie, we get…. *sigh* this.

badonceler

No

He has a face. And I don’t like it.
What’s wrong with giving the Once-ler a face, I hear you ask?
Because it goes against everything the character represents. Take the book, for example.

You won’t see the Once-ler
Don’t knock at his door
He stays in his Lerkim on top of his store
He lurks in his Lerkim, cold under the roof
Where he makes his own clothes out of miff-muffered moof.

Did you spot the incredibly subtle and nuanced detail there, movie? YOU WON’T. SEE. THE ONCE-LER. The whole idea behind the Once-ler is that he could be anyone. This reinforces the message of personal choices affecting the environment. Why you felt the need to give him a face is beyond me. Was it just too difficult to think how to hide him? You realise you could have saved a lot of paper and animation costs by not giving him a face, right? And even if the Once-ler did reveal his face in the book, would you imagine he’d look anything like that?
And then just to be completely insufferable they make him an idiot with an electric guitar. He’s no longer a single-minded sombre businessman, he’s comic relief in a film that is nothing BUT comic relief. And he doesn’t become consumed by productivity through his own choices, his evil family goes all Lady Macbeth and forces him to cut down the trees. Oh, and he previously promised the Lorax no more trees would be cut down.

I need a bucket. This is making me nauseous.

loraxmad

Definitely my facial expression

And now it’s time to talk about the Lorax. To his credit, Danny Devito is pretty much the perfect choice for the Lorax. He’s the only good voice acting for the movie, but that still comes with a price. The Lorax, again, is turned into a joke we’re supposed to laugh at. He’s given a ridiculously over the top entrance as he emerges from the tree stump. We’re talking thunder and lightning Thor-style. Movie, you do realise that the Lorax was literally the first thing we saw, right?
Anyway, from the second he appears on screen, the Lorax is played entirely for cheap and insulting laughs. He’s not dignified, he’s not wise. Danny Devito is actually perfect for this role, and we know he’s a good actor, but they’re afraid to let him do his thing.
You can pretty much sum up the Lorax’s true character from his first line in the book

Mister,” he said with a sawdusty sneeze
I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,”

It’s just a few words and a simple concept, but Dr Seuss creates more depth in that one line than the entire film.
To be fair, there are one or two moments with the in the movie where Danny Devito really gets to inhabit the Lorax, namely when the final Truffula tree is chopped down. And there’s a very touching moment when all the forest creatures come to mourn the loss of the first tree. If the whole movie had been in this vein, it would have been brilliant. Sadly this scene is undone a few minutes later as the Lorax and his friends toss the sleeping Once-ler into the river, nearly drowning him. Terrific.

I haven’t mentioned the forest creatures yet, trying to delay it as long as possible. Why? Because they are some of the most hateful side characters ever put in a family picture. The Bar-ba-loots are greedy and stupid, the Swomee Swans don’t sing, the Humming fish are annoying….actually, all these characters were insanely annoying. And you know why? Because they’re scrounged from the Minions’ table scraps. I shouldn’t be surprised, considering it’s the same studio and director behind Despicable Me, but damn it, it’s still horrible. Ripping off the Minions only proves the hypocritical corporate greed behind this picture. These characters are just here to market toys. You want to know what Dr Seuss thought about pointless marketing? He went out of his way to avoid it his whole life. A toy company once sent him a box of badly made toys of his characters, and he responded by throwing them into a swimming pool.

By the way, for all their spewing of evil big business, the evil big business responsible for this waste of time managed to collect 70 product tie ins for the movie. 70 product tie-ins. Are you kidding me?!?

Making the forest animals completely moronic and essentially one big toy ad didn’t make me feel emotion for them And it didn’t make me sympathise with their plight. I honestly didn’t care when they are forced to leave. This is partially due to them being constantly infuriating with their antics, but we don’t spend much time with any of these characters and therefore don’t really care about them. Not to mention the important parts of the story are pretty much glanced over.
The Bar-ba-loots, Swomee Swans and Humming Fish are all sent off at once, unlike the book which sends them off one by one and the Once-ler feels pangs of his conscience. What, are we trying to create build up here?
In this 90 minute film, the entire story of The Lorax book, is only told in a 3 minute musical number. That’s right. It’s not even a good song, either. The Once-ler just prances around singing “How bad can I be?” Sounds like the movie producers, actually.
The most important part of The Lorax is the effect of the trees being cut down, and it’s crushed into a bite sized musical montage that again, we’re supposed to find funny rather than disturbing. Let’s ignore the real message. Let’s pad the damn thing out with car chases and zany antics. Oh yes, there’s a car chase in the movie. It goes on for about ten minutes too.

Comparison #3: Climax
At the end of the book, there’s an extremely powerful and poignant climax with the Once-ler handing the boy (essentially, the reader!) the last Truffula seed, and urges them to plant it in the hopes that the Lorax and all of his friends will return.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
So….CATCH!”
Calls the Once-ler
He lets something fall.
It’s a Truffula Seed.
It’s the last one of all!
You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula seeds
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back,”

It’s not a happy ending. It’s not a sad ending. It’s a hopeful ending which leaves the reader with the choice to make this a better world. So, do we get this beautifully ambiguous ending in the movie?
HAHAHA, NO! Not a chance. That would be the adult route. Nope, Ted takes the seed and comes home to find O’Hare waiting for him, gives him the slip and asks Audrey to help him plant the seed in the middle of town so everyone can see, and they spend the next ten minutes being pursued by O’Hare and his minions to stop them planting the tree.

So….what’s at stake here?

Think about it. I’ve heard a few critics say there’s nothing at stake in the climax, and they’re right. If Ted and Audrey don’t grow the seed, so what? Humanity isn’t going to be destroyed. Nobody will die. Nothing will go wrong. Things will just be the way they always were. And humanity is happy with the way things are. Ted and Audrey will apparently be together regardless. So….what’s the problem?

It’s never once insinuated that the oxygen levels are running out, or the town is in danger of being overrun by the destruction outside. They don’t even know about it. And it’s not going to affect them either way. There is nothing on the line here. No reason what so ever for this ridiculous “climax”.
Oh, and the townspeople need about two minutes to completely change their minds and decide that trees are awesome. Much like how the Once-ler turned into a douchebag after one song.

And the absolute worst part about this ending? The Lorax comes back.

That is not a joke.

Dearest cinema gods of heaven and hell, did the writers even read the book?!?

Why did you want to bring him back? Oh that’s right, kids can’t handle a not-so-happy ending. You just had to make everything sunshine and roses, ignoring the sugar-free source material. And even after all this, they STILL can’t go all the way with a soft moment. The Lorax is back, it’s pleasant enough, the music is nice, but nope, then we’re back to making us laugh and ignoring what SHOULD be a huge moment, if it even needed to exist at all. AND IT DIDN’T.

It may not be the worst of the Seuss movies, and the animation is immaculate, but the reason The Lorax makes me the saddest is because this was the book which had the potential to be the easiest and best adaptation of Dr Seuss’ work. Everything was there. The story arc, the potential to expand, the characters, the tone, the world. And they were STILL too scared to trust the source material!

See, The Lorax suffers from the same problems as Horton Hears a Who. It doesn’t believe in its own message and doesn’t want to give the kids a split second of silence in case they high tail it out of the theatre. I am so incredibly sick of seeing these movies that are afraid of atmospheric moments! And again, they spoon feed the comedy in endless, stupid and completely pointless slapstick. If I wanted to see good slapstick, I’d go watch Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes.

They twisted this into a pandering comedy with stupid characters and bad voice acting. They were afraid that a ‘simple kid’s book’ wasn’t enough to tell a good story. They were afraid of their target audience. They didn’t trust in the intelligence of children. They were afraid to give us anything memorable. They were afraid of the truth.
Instead, we got a movie that is brightly coloured junk food for the mind. And that’s the last thing Dr Seuss wanted. Kids are not going to come away from this thinking anything meaningful about nature or the duty we have to this planet. They aren’t going to see the consequences of misplaced priorities or greed. They’re only going to think “Oh, look at the pretty colours and funny bears,” It’s the equivalent of waving keys in their faces.

Dr Seuss’ books are loved for both the writing and his iconic drawings. But you could take out the drawings and STILL have a brilliant book because his writing didn’t depend on pretty colours to distract the children. That’s not what he stood for, and I don’t think anyone else should either.
I’m not going to pretend everything Seuss wrote was perfect. There are books of his that I think are merely ok, or just a fun little romp. But for crying out loud, he always managed to get SOME form of entertainment out of what he did. My only hope is that people actually went and read the damn thing afterwards.

Seuss’ books don’t need to be fixed. They don’t need to be modernised. They don’t necessarily need to be adapted. And especially not like this. Please, for the love of good literature, don’t show your children The Lorax. Don’t expose them to this cash-in. It might seem cute, but that’s not enough.

If you think this movie is poison, like me,
Don’t watch this movie, go plant a tree.
Read the book, watch the special, put your time to good use
My name is AbStar, and I speak for the Seuss.

(Here, I’ll even provide the link. You can thank me later.)

Audio book https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKmbSJjXzFk

1972 version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8V06ZOQuo0k