Lorax, The (United States, 2012)

February 29, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Lorax, The Poster

"I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues."

Considering the brevity of the average Dr. Seuss book, it's no surprise that many of his best-known stories have been satisfactorily adapted into half-hour TV specials. Expanding them into feature length movies (whether live-action or animated) requires a lot of stretching and padding. The Lorax, while generally faithful to the content and intent of Dr. Seuss' original work, has required significant embellishment to bring it to the screen. Action scenes have been added to keep the interest of short viewers with shorter attention spans, extraneous subplots have been added to increase the already brief running length, and the ending has changed to offer more optimism. The result is solidly entertaining - not quite as good as Horton Hears a Who or How the Grinch Stole Christmas - but unquestionably better than The Cat in the Hat. I now await Green Eggs and Ham and the Further Adventures of Sam I Am.

The Lorax follows the structure of the book by having the majority of the story related in flashback. It also retains the strong anti-business, pro-environment themes which have created controversy over the years. The movie opens in the city of Thneedville, where 12-year old Ted (voice of Zac Efron) decides that the best way to win the heart of his crush, Audrey (Taylor Swift), is to find a way to fulfill her greatest desire. Aside from the people, Thneedville is entirely artificial, with plastic plants and fake grass. The air is so polluted that people purchase containers of fresh air to breathe. Audrey wants nothing more than to see a Truffula tree - the extinct plant species that once populated the land in and around Thneedville.

To learn what happened to the trees and discover how one might be found, Ted must leave the safety of the city and venture into the bleak countryside beyond in search of The Once-ler (Ed Helms). From this mysterious being, Ted learns the story of how The Once-ler's greed led to the destruction of the Truffula forest and why The Lorax (Danny DeVito), the gruff being who "speaks for the trees," decided to depart. Ted's trips outside the city are noticed by Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle), the tycoon who sells fresh air and whose business depends on a tree-less environment. O'Hare makes it clear to Ted that visits to The Once-ler will not be tolerated - warnings that Ted ignores.

Perhaps because animated features have been in a recent slump, The Lorax feels like cut above. The Dr. Seuss moniker is a recognized trademark and indicator of quality, so it should do well at the box office. The 3-D version offers little beside a few token instances of things being thrown in the audience's direction to justify the additional cost. Adults and children alike will derive equal enjoyment from the 2-D iteration. Likewise, IMAX is an overkill. The Lorax is cheery and colorful and boasts some impressive computer-generated artwork, but there's nothing to identify it as an ideal candidate for a big screen with a bigger sound system.

The Lorax looks and feels like the offspring of old-school Dr. Seuss and newfangled technology. Some of the dialogue - even that not taken from the book - rhymes. The Truffula trees, with their colorful, silky tops, and The Lorax, with his orange color and big mustache, resemble the illustrations in the book as brought to life by computer-assisted animators. Straight lines are few and far between. The songs, while not especially memorable (it's doubtful anyone will be humming them on the way home in the car), are Suessified. It comes as no surprise to learn that Dr. Seuss' widow, Audrey, is an executive producer.

The Lorax transfers the book's strong environmental themes, showing how the systematic destruction of the environment and consumption of limited natural resources can have desultory impacts on the quality of life. The anti-big business bias of the story is enhanced on screen with the Mr. O'Hare subplot. Although the concept of "clean air" being bought and sold may seem absurd, the same thing might have been said about water 40 years ago. As one character remarks, "If you put it in a plastic bottle, people will buy it." Some of this material will go over the heads of younger viewers; the river-bed rapids ride and various other "action" scenes are aimed at them. And the points about conservation will reach audience members young and old.

The ensemble cast's voice acting has a pleasantly anonymous quality to it - even Danny DeVito's familiar pipes don't stand out. DeVito's "loveable grouch" is the precise quality needed for The Lorax. Although Taylor Swift has one of the most recognizable voices in music today, she does little (if any) singing and there's nothing in her spoken interpretation of Audrey that calls undue attention. (The part was written into the movie; Audrey does not appear in the book.)

The Lorax is at its weakest when it strays from the book and the need to embellish is at times so strong that the storyline meanders. The scenes with Mr. O'Hare seemed tacked-on and unnecessary (which they are). The character is neither sufficiently amusing nor menacing enough to warrant the amount of screen time accorded to his plots and antics. On the whole, however, fans of the book will more than likely be pleased with this extended interpretation. Children should enjoy the experience while the adults accompanying them won't wish they were elsewhere.

Lorax, The (United States, 2012)

Director: Chris Renaud
Cast: (voices) Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White, Rob Riggle
Screenplay: Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul, based on the book by Dr. Seuss
Music: John Powell
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2012-03-02
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1