Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul (Book: Dr. Seuss)
Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate, Nasim Pedrad
PG for brief mild language.
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Sometimes a project has such a strong heart that even its execution can’t diminish the intent. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax does just that with a compelling pro-environment message packaged in a listless, overly cutesy production.
Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known to millions of people as Dr. Seuss, was a firm believer in children as stewards of the future, particularly environmental and social justice issues. Through his books, he tried to instill in younger generations a desire to be better people. While some of those messages stick in the minds of readers, they are often drowned out with other beliefs and ideas forced on them as they got older. Director Chris Renaud attempts to spread the environmentally friendly ideas at the heart of The Lorax to a new generation of children. Unlike the more poignant and engaging WALL-E which tackled the same topic four years ago, Renaud’s follow up to Despicable Me lacks the heart and wit of his prior film.
The story takes place in Thneedville, a wondrous city where nature has been locked out and plastic and technology have become an everyday part of life. When his neighbor and romantic interest Audrey (the voice of Taylor Swift) introduces him to the magical concept of real trees, not the inflated plastic constructs all around the city, Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) embarks on a journey to find a tree to give her in hopes she’ll like him.
Far outside the city walls, a dark, desolate and lonely place, Ted meets The Once-ler (voice of Ed Helms) who begins a three-day story of why there are no trees left in all the world. His tale hearkens back to his own desire for success and the creation of a miraculous device called the Thneed, made from the luxurious foliage of trees. After chopping one down for his first prototype, the magical protector of the forest, The Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito), comes down and instills in him the desire to protect nature and a promise not to cut down any more trees. Once greed takes root, his promise becomes a memory and his campaign to make the incredibly popular Thneed threaten the very sanctity of the forest and its furry, feathery and scaly denizens.
Employing the same bulky character style used in Despicable Me, Renaud leads his art team to create a visually marvelous design aesthetic. The landscape pops with vibrant colors, luxurious textures and crafty details. It’s a very pretty world in which the story takes place, both the naturalistic past and the cold, sanitary future filled with happy, unaware people. The humanoid characters are appealing with the creepy bowl cut of corporate giant Mr. O’Hare (voice of Rob Riggle), the expected exception. O’Hare runs a company whose product, bottled air, keeps the citizenry happy and keeps his wallet overflowing. The thought of trees returning and providing his product to the people for free lead him to terrorize young Ted and his family as he tries to stop him from bringing back anything that might take root, including freedom.
As much as I admire the beauty of the film and the importance of its message, the film doesn’t thrive the way its style does. A handful of corny songs dot the project, providing a strange counterpoint to the events. Clearly trying to follow in the footsteps of the Christmas TV classic The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Renaud and screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul only muck up their grand design. The songs aren’t very catchy and the choreography is frequently stiff. Blend in the unimpressive vocal work of nearly everyone in the cast, even the typically reliable Betty White as Ted’s grandmother, and the foundation of the film begins to unravel. DeVito’s Lorax is understandably the best-voiced character of the bunch and Helms does a suitable job bringing both old and young Once-ler to life.
Being a children’s film, it’s expected to have some childlike humor that doesn’t play well to adult audiences, but Renaud’s Despicable Me had the same potential for failure, but managed to provide plenty of adult-friendly comedy. The Lorax lacks that verve, presenting only a few bits of sharp dialogue and phrasing. Dr. Seuss’ words are used frequently, but the rhythmic qualities are off-kilter too frequently, largely thanks to the wooden cast.
As a children’s film, it works quite well. It gives tykes a colorful, vivacious environment to dazzle their eyes. There’s a seed of pro-environmentalism in the film that might rub off on impressionable children, but whether it can grow into something grand and beautiful is uncertain. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax demands to be embraced and discussed with kids. They may not always find the film as entertaining as they did when they were young, but with a parent’s guidance, a healthy appreciation for nature can be developed and that is never a bad thing.
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