Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
What It Is
“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.” So says the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) at the start of the animated movie named for him. As he speaks, the trees are only a memory in Thneed-Ville, a town where everything is artificial, from cars and flowers to houses and trees. Even fresh air is packaged and sold in plastic bottles, as O’Hare Air.
Here 12-year-old Ted (Zac Efron) lives with his mother (Jenny Slate) and grandmother (Betty White), and nurtures a crush on the pretty girl down the block, Audrey (Taylor Swift). When he learns that the surest way to her heart is to give her a real, live tree for her birthday, he sets about finding out what happened to the trees and also, bringing one back as a gift. Grammy, who can remember real trees, points Ted in the right direction, that is, over a huge wall to Outside of Town.
Here he discovers a barren land where colorful fluffy Truffula trees used to thrive, as well as the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a onetime entrepreneur, now a miserable shut-in. the Once-ler agrees to tell his story, which is also the story of the lost trees: specifically, he came up with an invention, called the Thneed because he pitched it as something buyers needed, even though they didn’t. Once the product was in demand, his greedy mother and siblings join in the business and the sweet creatures who live in the forest here — bears, birds, and fish — are soon homeless.
As Ted listens to the Once-ler’s lengthy story, he learns the value of trees and the problems caused by crass commercialism. And so he returns to Thneed-Ville, determined to plant a tree, even against the express wishes of the short, selfish, generally heartless corporate mogul Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), who sells that air in bottles and so would rather not have trees around, because they clean the air free of charge. Though O’Hare sends his rather large and dark-suited minions (actually, marketing executives) to stop him, Ted enlists his grammy, his mom, and Audrey in getting that seed planted.
Why It’s Fun
Based on Dr. Seuss’s 1971 book, the movie remains true to its theme of environmental conservation: if it’s not “fun” that this theme has become even more significant and generates even more controversy today, but it does mean the film is as relevant for viewers today as the book was then.
For the most part, the colors are bright and outrageously Seussian, such that the trees offer a range of purples and greens and reds and yellows, and the character animation is, again emulating the books, at once sinuous and energetic. (See below for a note on the darker scenes.) It’s helpful too that this brightness mostly overcomes the usual dimming effect of the 3D glasses.
The songs are pleasant if not memorable, with lyrics both encouraging (“Let It Grow”) and silly (“Everybody Needs a Thneed,” or again, “You Need a Thneed,” or yet again, “Nobody Needs a Thneed”).
Unlike some Seuss characters (say, the Cat in the Hat) but like others (the Grinch), the Lorax is wholly made up: squat and orange with a bushy yellow mustache, he’s grumpy but lovable, a bit bumbling and also instructive.
Who’s Going To Love It
Dr. Seuss fans may note some changes from the book, namely the addition of Mr. O’Hare, an overdrawn villain with none of the entertaining complexities shown by Gru or Vector, the baddish guys in director Chris Renaud’s previous movie, Despicable Me. Still, the team knows how to make a movie that’s smart as well as cute.
Fans might also want to see the animated TV version from 1972, featuring Eddie Albert.
What To Be Aware Of
Though the movie has been rated PG “for brief, mild language,” it’s not clear what language that may be. The pro-environmental and anti-commercial greed themes might seem sophisticated for younger viewers, but they’re also likely to be distracted by colors and chase scenes.
The Lorax comes up with a plan to rid the forest of the Once-ler, that is, putting his bed in a river and watching it float away. This goes wrong when one of the baby bears finds himself stranded on the bed with the Once-ler: the Lorax and the rest of the forest animals have to save the bed, which means saving the Once-ler too. The adventure offers some not-so-scary turns in the river and worried bears.
The Once-ler’s family is loud and crude; they travel and live in a trailer that expands to fill much of the forest. Their bad behavior might be one reason why he might turn so careless regarding the trees and the animals, while his hope to please his overbearing mother might be another reason.
When the trees are killed off, the movie makes clear you know how bleak this prospect is, as the landscape just outside Thneed-Ville is soon reduced to stark, dark tones, the stumps looking sad and the ground quite grim. It may not be as sinister as the Land Without Simba in The Lion King, but it’s in that ballpark.
7 out of 10
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
Director: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
Cast: Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms, Betty White, Jenny Slate, Rob Riggle
Studio: Universal Pictures
US Premiere: March 2, 2012
UK Premiere: July 27, 2012