Unreal Movie Review: The Lorax

Dr. Seuss books were a treasured memory for a few generations of children, myself included. But in today’s world, kids don’t have to read the classics anymore. Rather, they can just wait until the stories are turned into CGI feature films voiced by their favorite celebrity heartthrobs.

But just because something worked as a twenty page, two hundred word book, that doesn’t mean it’s going to make an effective feature film, no matter how much of a genius the original author may have been. The Lorax, with all its flash and cash, doesn’t manage to emulate what  made the original story great.

This new version has added a lot of padding to warrant its ninety minute running time, and time is divided between two distinct stories. Ted (Zac Efron) is a resident of the all-plastic Thneedville, located in an area which hasn’t seen a natural bit of plant or animal life in eons. His pretty neighbor Audrey (these aren’t very Seuss-ian names by the way), voiced by Taylor Swift, wants to see a real life Truffla tree, long thought to be extinct, and so Ted has a mission.

What mockery is this?

At the advice of his grandma (Betty White, she’s so hot right now) he sneaks out of town  much to the dismay of Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), the town’s wealthy industrialist who has made a fortune selling bottled air to Thneedville’s citizens. Ted’s quest for trees will allow the people to potentially get his product for free.

Ted locates the Once-ler (Ed Helms), an old shut-in with a story to tell about how he chopped down all the Truffla trees at the behest of a magical forest creature, The Lorax (Danny DeVito). His tale is told in a series of flashbacks that recall his rise to and fall from power.

Seuss’s animation style lends itself to animated film, but the script does not. Much of the charm of Seuss’s books was not only the unique animation, but the sing-song lyrics he wrote to accompany the images. When you have a Hollywood pro scripting things instead, you get a whole lot of slapstick comedy and fish singing the Mission Impossible theme. Just once, I’d love to see someone take up the challenge of scipting a film like this ENTIRELY in rhyme.

Some things are better left in two dimensions.

The environmental message is obvious and more relevant today than it was when the book was first published in 1971. This has drawn fire from the same crowd who thought that The Muppets was anti-capitalist because their bad guy was a wealthy oil baron determined to demolish their studio. Rather, if anything, the message is a bit hypocritical because as a cross -promotion for the film, The Lorax has been seen hawking a “green” Mazda SUV, as if there really is such a thing.

The film just isn’t funny, and even its elaborate musical numbers on the whole fall flat. Efron and Swift are clearly only there to get their names on the poster, while Ed Helms sounds too much like his Office character as he wails on the guitar during his flashback sequences. I did like the Lorax himself, voice cast well as Danny DeVito, but sadly he doesn’t get half the screen time of other characters.

While the book ended on a relatively cryptic and bleak note, the film has to craft a happy ending that ends up involving an elaborate car chase and a grandma snowboarding. It sounds like a bad cereal commercial, but it allows the film to end on a somewhat more heartwarming note.

To be fair, those trees look delicious.

I just don’t think Seuss books translate to film all that well. Both with The Lorax and Horton Hears a Who, there simply wasn’t anything  there to make it on par with Pixar or Dreamworks classics as of late. Seuss’s The Grinch worked in live-action form only because of the exceptionally dedicated performance of Jim Carrey, but I don’t think that sort of success can be easily replicated.

It’s no slight to Seuss that his short rhyming stories don’t necessarily make for great feature films. Could you really turn Toy Story into a 100 word book and have it have the same effect as the film? Sometimes stories only work in their original mediums.

The message is on par, but the delivery is off, and I’m not sure The Lorax would appreciate the manufactured symbol of generic Hollywood animation he’s become.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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  1. The characters, Ted and Audrey, were named after Dr. Seuss himself, Theodore Geisel, and his wife Audrey.

    It may be the only thing Seussian that made it into the final product.

    I agree that Seuss’ stories have rarely turned out well when interpreted onto the screen. The original Grinch is by far the most successful adaptations. All of the other attempts have been footnotes at best; which is why Audrey had been so resistant to doing any film interpretations for so long.

  2. The second I saw the trailer for The Lorax, I knew it was going to be awful. Did the creators ever read the book? The book is sad, talking about how all the trees were cut down despite everything the Lorax tried to do. At the end, there is the grain of hope, the seed, that the Lorax gives that one guy. From what I could tell of this movie, it will have less to do with the book than Horton Hears a Who did, which is saying something.

  3. You know, one of the things that made Seuss so awesome – in fact, maybe the main thing that set him apart – was that he never pandered to kids. He wrote books for young children that were actually intended to be clever, even educational.

    It’s sad that people have managed to dull his genius into whimsical fluff. Lewis Carroll got much the same treatment. It seems that no matter how clever an author is, if he has too many fanciful creatures in his books people assume that’s the only key to his success.

  4. The Chuck Jones animation did the book much more justice. The least they could have included was a rhyming narration. Shoot, even Horton Hears a Who included that. Kinda sad when The Grinch is considered the best out of all these movies based off of Dr. Suess’ works.

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