Film Review – The Lorax
With another year well underway, do you know what time it is? Why, time for another Dr. Seuss adaptation, of course! This go-around, the studio that brought us the highly popular Despicable Me (2010) is back with The Lorax (2012), directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda and written by Ken Daurio. Now, to be completely honest with you, this particular story was not one of the Dr. Seuss books that I held very close to my heart; I was more of a How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat, and Green Eggs and Ham kind of a kid. I was slightly aware of what the story was about—regarding an imaginary creature and his attempt to stop a number of trees from being chopped down—but other than that I have to admit I walked into the movie with a pretty clean slate. A number of recent Dr. Seuss film adaptations have turned out fairly unmemorable, to put it nicely—would this one actually break ground?
The main problem with adapting a Dr. Seuss story is in regard to content. These were children’s books that were only a good handful of pages long, dominated by pictures and with dialogue relegated to lines of rhyme. All of the feature length films based on his work have suffered from the fact that there is simply not enough content to fill up an entire hour and a half time frame. As a result, writers and directors have to come up with creative ways to fill in those gaps, by adding more characters, or weaving in story threads that were not present in the original source material, or creating musical scenes…so on and so on. While watching the film, I did sense that certain scenes and certain characters were put in just to make it an appropriate length. As a whole, it feels a bit dragged out, stretched with moments that only seemed like filler. This is why the animated short film How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) remains to me as the best adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s work thus far, because it was not required to do that.
Let’s start at the beginning. When the film opens, we come to believe that the main plot revolves around the character of Ted (Zac Efron). Ted seems like any other kid, but his life is very much unlike any other. That is because his entire town, the world that he is aware of, is one made up of façades. There is no natural vegetation, the grass is fake, flowers and plants are plastic balloons, and the pollution is so bad that one of the biggest commodities the townsfolk have is clean air, sold in bulk by the greedy businessman Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle). Despite the conditions of the town he lives in, Ted is more or less a good normal kid. His main prerogative is to win the heart of his crush, Audrey (Taylor Swift). When Audrey informs him that her biggest wish is to see a real, living tree, Ted takes it upon himself to find one for her. Problem is, he’s never seen a real tree before, and wouldn’t know where to begin to find one. Luckily for him, his Grammy Norma (Betty White) has lived long enough to remember real trees, and that the only way he could possibly find one would be to venture outside of the walls of the town and visit the mysterious person known only as The Once-ler (Ed Helms).
This is where the film switches gears and moves the focus off of Ted and to The Once-ler. When Ted meets The Once-ler, we are thrown into a flashback to when colorful trees populated the green landscape. The Once-ler (as his younger version) was a kid determined to make a success of himself and prove to his family that he can make it on his own. Unfortunately, his business model involves having to chop down the trees and use them to create his products. This is where we meet The Lorax (Danny DeVito), a magical creature that seemingly popped out of a tree trunk on a mission to stop The Once-ler from destroying the forest and potentially causing harm to the planet. Along with his band of very cute bears (reminiscent of Despicable Me’s Minions), The Lorax tries to show The Once-ler the error of his ways before it’s too late. Let me take a step back for a moment and point out that the flashback sequences created a bit of structure imbalance for me. The beginning act of the film would have you believe that Ted is the main protagonist of the movie, but the entire middle portion focuses on The Once-ler. I felt the shift between the two was a bit abrupt. By the time we returned to Ted’s story thread, I felt as though we learned nothing more about him from when the movie started.
There are some good elements working in this movie. The biggest one would be the animation. The worlds that Dr. Seuss created can only be accurately depicted in an animated film, and here we see the art design and color scheme work very well. It is as if Seuss’s book came to life before our very eyes. Rarely do we see a straight line anywhere in the movie; it is one of the best adaptations, strictly from a visual aspect. Much of the humor and cuteness factor that worked in Despicable Me works well here also, but not to the same extent. The chemistry that The Lorax has with the forest animals are definitely the best parts of the movie, and their bumbling attempts to stop The Once-ler from cutting down the trees was certainly amusing. And Danny DeVito does his best to make The Lorax lovable, tough, and vulnerable all at the same time. DeVito’s voice is unmistakable, and he does a good job trying to make it sound unique to the character.
With all that said, though, I did end up walking out of the movie feeling a bit unsatisfied. It’s not that the movie is bad, it just felt as though it never quite took that extra step above being average. Despite the good animation and DeVito’s fine voice work, nothing about the film really stood out to me. The music was entirely forgettable; if pressed I would not be able to come up with a single lyric that stuck in my head. Sure, it was humorous, and I’m sure many kids would like it, but I never found it to be laugh-out-loud funny. In regard to movies targeted towards a younger audience, the children that attended the screening I was in stayed relatively quiet throughout the entire movie. And while I understand the message the film was trying to say, I did think that it hit the nail on the head a bit too blatantly. Sure, critiquing the message of the film would be to critique the message of the book, and I get that. The thing is, the book was published in 1971—over forty years ago. Today, in a time when people are accustomed to recycling routinely and very much aware of environmentalism and the importance of pollution control, it just felt as though the film was preaching an issue everyone already knows about.
Do I think The Lorax is something that kids would like? Sure. Would it be a movie that I would recommend parents and families make an effort to seek out? Not really. In the hierarchy of good-to-great kid movies, this would rank somewhere straight down the middle. It’s a safe and easy kind of entertainment, and that’s about it.
Final Grade: B-