The Lorax is my favorite of the many animated adaptations of Dr. Seuss’ works from the 1960s and ‘70s — where bizarre and vaguely hippie-dippie tunes were set against the rough lines and bright-yet-cruddy pastels that are synonymous with the artist’s humble illustrations. Now we have a feature-length version courtesy of the studio and director of Despicable Me, where the viewer enjoys state-of-the-art CGI artistry wrapped in a cotton candy-coated color scheme not found anywhere I’ve seen in nature.
Ted (Zac Efron) is a teenage boy living in the city of Thneed-Ville, a walled off paradise where the only living thing appears to be the people. There is no living vegetation to speak of, and fresh air comes courtesy of the bottled air company run by the nefarious Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle). When the cute girl next door, Audrey (Taylor Swift), confesses that she wants nothing more than to see a living tree, Ted finds himself on a mission to make her dreams a reality in hopes of sealing himself a good lip-lockin’ sesh.
At the advice of his wacky grandma (Betty White, of course), Ted seeks out the hermit-like Once-ler (Ed Helms), who explains that the now-barren and polluted landscape was once covered in beautiful “Truffula trees.” The Once-ler determines that the fluffy and fuzzy tree tufts will make an ideal material for the making of “thneeds,” a frivolous yet versatile product with which the green (but not green thinking) entrepreneur plans to build his legacy. He chops down his first tree, and with that logging comes the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a mustache-having fuzzball who speaks for the trees and pressures the young businessman to promise he won’t chop down any more of the orange fellow’s constituency.
But alas, a thneed is a thing that everyone needs, and soon the trees are being chopped en masse, while the Lorax and the other woodland critters see their home ravaged by the production’s byproducts — namely smogulous smoke, gluppity glup and the dreaded shloppity shlop. We know from the start that this will end in the Once-ler being left to sit alone in his ivory tower amongst the destruction responsible for putting him there, and of course it will be up to Ted to bring the trees back in the face of O’Hare and the dimwitted populace who stand by while economies continue to devastate the planet.
As I was watching The Lorax, I couldn’t help but be reminded of WALL-E — my favorite of the Pixar films, and one that sends roughly the same message. Both are CGI spectacles that condemn mankind’s seemingly incessant need to consume what our planet has to offer, but if WALL-E somewhat hits the audience over the head with it’s message, The Lorax does so while explaining in detail exactly how it’s doing it. This adaptation becomes awfully preachy while trying to fill in the gaps inherent in stretching Seuss’ short-form poetry into an hour and a half, making it’s songs occasionally groan-worthy, and it’s last act nearly a chore for the audience.
Similarly, obvious lyrics about “giving trees a chance” reminded me that the families who flock to see this saccharine-colored property will be the same consumers of the brand-name tie-ins that will populate first homes and then landfills over the next several decades. It’s an unfortunate hypocrisy, and one that shines through the gummy smiles of the barbaloots (in their barbaloot suits) and humming fish that populate the film (serving as the Seussian equivalent of Despicable Me’s ever-popular Minions).
Regardless, The Lorax is a fun-enough family film that accomplishes its mission of positioning environmentally conscious entertainment for children. The songs are less good than they could have been, but the kids will be glued to the screen, and the eco-friendly message is one that can’t be ignored anymore today than it was upon it’s initial release four decades ago.