The talented screenwriting team behind Horton Hears a Who! and Despicable Me now bring us the Dr. Seuss classic, The Lorax. Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio are huge fans of Dr. Seuss' work and by tackling Horton and now The Lorax, they've been able to bring their personal favorite Dr. Seuss tales to the big screen for generations to enjoy.
Paul and Daurio's The Lorax expands on Dr. Seuss' classic book while retaining the tone and themes of the story. And in our exclusive interview in support of the March 2, 2012 release of the Universal Pictures film, the screenwriters talked about the challenges of adapting The Lorax, the world of Dr. Seuss, and the film's voice cast.
Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio The Lorax Interview
What is more challenging for you as a writing team: adapting something like this that's so beloved or coming up with something new like Despicable Me?
Ken Daurio: "It's scarier coming up with something new because you have no idea what the public response is going to be. On the other hand, when you're adapting a Dr. Seuss book that everybody loves, there's a big chance that you're going to disappoint some people. That's the big fear. Like, 'Wait! You can't change that. You've done too much!' It's a tricky thing to do one of these Dr. Seuss movies because this is people's childhoods you're messing with here."
It must help that you have a working relationship with Audrey Geisel now.
Cinco Paul: "Yeah, that has been great. She was so happy with Horton Hears a Who! and that has made it much easier in this process. The Lorax is a really important book to her; I think it's her favorite of Ted's books, and so she really has been very involved in how we're treating the book. And it's actually my favorite of Dr. Seuss' books, and Horton Hears a Who! was Ken's, so we sort of had our dreams come true."
How much extra weight does that place on your shoulders knowing it's Audrey Geisel's favorite book?
Cinco Paul: "I think one of the reasons that we have been working with her multiple times now is because we're all on the same page. We really want to respect these books and we really want to make the best version of that book that we can. We aren't interested in changing and expanding just for the sake of expanding and pushing the envelope. We really do, because we're such big fans, want to make the version that we want to see. We're all on the same page, which is good."
How did you go about fleshing out the story and how did you know where your jumping off point would be to start the film?
Cinco Paul: "That was a huge challenge with this because as much as I love the book, for a long time Ken and I were both thinking, 'Can we do this? How do you make this into a feature film?' And then we sort of had a breakthrough where we looked at the first page of the book, that's the boy visiting the Once-ler at the Lurkum, and felt, 'Well, who is this boy and where did he come from? What led him to come visit?' That gives us a starting place that's before the book as a way to expand. And then the last image is the one of him handing him the seed. And then we thought, 'Well, I wonder what happens now that he has the seed?' So the idea was to expand the book on either side but to preserve as much of what Dr. Seuss did as possible."
So how do you get into that Dr. Seuss storytelling frame of mind to figure out what would fit before and after his story?
Ken Daurio: "We did spend a lot of time with Dr. Seuss' widow, Audrey Geisel, and we kind of picked her brain as much as we could. We certainly got her input as to what she felt he was trying to do with the books, and what she felt would be appropriate as far as where to expand and how far to expand. So, that was where we started. But also just as fans of his work, when we were looking at what's this town going to look like, we basically looked in every Dr. Seuss book at all the towns he'd ever drawn, all the buildings he'd ever drawn, all his different characters. So we went inside a lot of his work to find bits and pieces to fill out the world of The Lorax that we were trying to create."
Cinco Paul: "And we looked at, 'What are the themes of the book?' The themes are the consequences of greed and taking care of the planet, and the difference that one person can make. We sort of applied those themes to our beginning and our end of the movie, to try to be true to what the Dr. would have wanted."
You have to tell an entertaining story, so you can't just push a message. How do you know when you're pushing that message too far and you need to draw back? How do you get that balance?
Ken Daurio: "That was a big question we had going in. We did not want to make a movie that was preachy and..."
Cinco Paul: "And felt like medicine."
Ken Daurio: "Right, was pounding people over the head with it. We're both parents, we each have three kids, we don't want to go to a movie and get yelled at for an hour and a half. So that was the balance was finding how to tell that story in an entertaining way, which is what Dr. Seuss did with a lot of his books. A lot of them had these great messages that were about so much more than just two little characters in a book. But he did it in such a fun, interesting, colorful way that you didn't mind getting the medicine. You enjoyed the journey to getting that message."
Cinco Paul: "Yeah, you loved the characters. A lot of it was just focusing on the characters and the relationship between the Lorax and the Once-ler, and then spending time with the animals - the Bar-ba-loots and the Humming-Fish and the Swomee-Swans, you know? Which is great because ultimately you spend more time and you love them even more, and it's then more heartbreaking when things go wrong."
How long does it take to be able to say Bar-ba-loots without laughing?
Ken Daurio: "They're everyday words for us now. After three years, they seem normal."
Cinco Paul: "We can't even say 'bear'. How boring is that? Why would you ever say the word bear?"
So it was a three year process for this film?
Cinco Paul: "Yes, about three. Maybe a little over three. We were working on Despicable Me when we started working on this, and so it was during that process."
Ken Daurio: "It's a long process. There's lots of exploration and lots of fine tuning. Because the process of animation just takes so long, there's always opportunities to rewrite and fine tune everything. But it's a great process because you really do end up with, hopefully, the best version of everything when the movie's done."
Is it difficult to continuously tweak your own work as the film's in production?
Cinco Paul: "It's a double-edged sword. I would say in some ways it's a great opportunity and in some ways we've been so happy that we've had the chance to tweak things and, 'Oh, yes, that's so much better.' [Laughing] But it is exhausting - I will be frank with you. It is a marathon. Writing a live-action movie is so much easier because you've got an eight week shoot and then you're done. This is a three year shoot."
Why do you do it if it's such an exhausting process?
Ken Daurio: "Well, because these animated movies, I think, they're some of the best movies being made today. They're larger than life. They're timeless. The goal is to make this thing that's going to last forever and be for generations of kids. It's just awesome to be a part of that, and especially when you're linked to Dr. Seuss. It's such a great thing."
Which one of his works do you want to tackle next?
Ken Daurio: "That's hard because we've done our favorites."
Cinco Paul: "We really have, that's not just something we've made up. When we found out we were going to do Horton, I called Ken and said, 'If we could adapt any book in the world, what would we do?' And he said, 'Well, not Horton.' And I said, 'Yeah!' They literarily are two of our all-time favorites. Not all of his books - One Fish, Two Fish and Hop on Pop don't really lend themselves to storytelling, so I don't know."
But the actual experience of working with his estate is such that you would want to do it again, if there's a good project?
Ken Daurio: "Absolutely."
Cinco Paul: "That's been a great experience and inspiring. To go down to his house and there's all this Seuss art all over the place."
Ken Daurio: "You're looking up at the wall and there's the original tabletop that he drew all these pictures on and wrote the books on. It's hard to be there as an adult and not get emotional."
When you're working on the script, does Audrey Geisel and the estate have active input into any changes that go on with the story?
Ken Daurio: "They do have input and we certainly want to hear what she has to say, especially with this book. I think she was more involved with this book than any other because up until this point, Ted's books were all done in two colors: red and blue. It was Audrey who pushed him. 'Why don't you expand the color palette? You've been working in two colors for so long.' And so that's why when you look at this book, all of a sudden it takes a jump to now there's purples and greens and pinks. She was a big part of that happening, and so she feels very connected to this book. As we were showing her images that we were working on, she was always, 'Make sure those purples are purples! I worked hard to get those purples in the book!' And so she was very involved and we loved everything that she had to say."
Cinco Paul: "And generally the things that she felt strongly about, we did as well including, 'Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better, it's not.' She wanted that in the movie, and that was from the get-go we knew we wanted that there. And having the Lorax say the classic line, 'I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.'"
Ken Daurio: "She just wanted to make sure all the iconic imagery and lines were going to be in the movie. And, of course, that's why we're doing this."
Was she worried at all about the new characters being added into the story?
Cinco Paul: "I don't actually recall her having any qualms about that at all. We went through the Horton process and she understands you need to add the characters. But she certainly had approval over the look of the characters and wanted to make sure they looked like something that Ted would draw, that they looked like they were part of that world."
"She did have her one reservation. We named a character after her and she initially had reservations about that because she said, 'I don't want people to think I'm trying to put myself into the movie and everything.' And ultimately she said okay."
Did you change anything in particular after the voice cast came on?
Ken Daurio: "Not really, but what does happen is we start writing the script before we have anybody cast, somewhere along the line we find out Danny DeVito is going to be the Lorax and all of a sudden that just makes our job so much easier. Now writing the Lorax's dialogue you hear that voice in your head, which is perfect. Once we heard that name it was like, 'Yes, there's no other option. He is the Lorax.' Once you've got that in your head, it makes writing for characters so much easier. We didn't change much for characters but certainly once you know who the actors are going to be, it helps."
Cinco Paul: "I think we wrote the dialogue a little differently once Danny was on board and once Ed Helms was on board. He's just amazing. He has an amazing voice and there's a tone of delivery to him that is just so charming, and that definitely impacted the dialogue we started writing. And then when you know you have Betty White, you know you can write anything and it will be magical."
And you're working on Despicable Me 2?
Cinco Paul: "We are deep in that right now."
Ken Daurio: "It's been so much fun. When we did the first one we just thought, 'Okay, that story is done.' We weren't really thinking sequel, but once we began thinking sequel, it opened up so many doors. And there are so many great ideas for those characters that we love, that we are having a blast."
Will we see all the characters we met in the original?
Ken Daurio: "We're going to see everyone - and some new ones."
Cinco Paul: "We finished the script and now we're in the process of rewriting and fixing things. Most of the actors have started recording."
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The Lorax hits theaters on March 2, 2012.