I think it’s fair to say that we have yet to see a full length film based upon the work of Dr. Suess that measured up to the value of the written versions. Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas came the closest to hitting the mark but I think most Suess fans would agree that they’d just as soon watch the old cartoon classic Grinch over the Jim Carrey interpretation. The Lorax falls closely in line with its Suessian brothers, providing a decent piece of family fare that doesn’t live up to the charisma of the book.
Like many young teenagers, Ted (Zac Efron) has a crush on a slightly older girl, a neighbor named Audrey (Taylor Swift). When Audrey reveals that the one thing she wants the most is to see a real life tree, Ted sets out on a quest to find the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a hermit who has some knowledge of trees. Ted gets more than he bargains for, though, as the Once-ler draws him into the vivid tale of how he met the fabled Lorax (Danny Devito) and ultimately became responsible for the extinction the trees. And when all is said and done, Ted is tasked with reviving the growth of trees in the town of Thneedville.
The hatred being spewed by (overly angry) viewers in the direction of The Lorax is more than a little shocking. If you were to browse through the user reviews on IMDB, you’d think you’d stumbled upon a right-wing message board, not a collection of thoughts on a kid’s movie. The reason for all the venom is the environmental message at the core of The Lorax which apparently angers, like, a LOT of people. Here’s where I stand on the whole thing and then we’ll move on to the actual film. I’m far from a classic environmentalist. I enjoy hunting and fishing, support the expansion of oil drilling operations, and think Styrofoam cups are just the best. But is it really all that bad to maybe suggest that we give a passing thought to not chopping down every tree on the planet? I really don’t think that’s asking too much of anyone. At times the message of The Lorax becomes heavy handed and overwhelms the, “I’m just here to watch a cartoon” vibes but personally I didn’t find it to be inappropriately preachy. Then again, this was always one of my favorite Suess books and I was fully aware of the deeper message going in.
Now that I’ve set myself up for sniper fire from the people who hate trees (I kid, I kid), let’s move on to the non-controversial portions of The Lorax which is a fairly mixed bag. There are moments and scenes within this film that elicited genuine laughter from me but these bright spots are swallowed up by a fairly ho-hum narrative that never aspires to be much more than adequate. The lively, beautifully colored animation is contrasted, and ultimately equaled, by the boringness of the main characters and the uninspired script. The musical numbers come about far too infrequently, leaving me to wonder why they had any musical scenes in the first place. In addition, while the cast is strong, only DeVito shines consistently, though Helms does a quality job when he is actually called upon to do something. It’s not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with the path taken by The Lorax but I would have liked to see it turn a corner in the early going and strive for excellence rather than settle for alright-ness.
All of this makes The Lorax just another in a long string of Suess adaptations that fail to live up to the source material. It is cute and not entirely worthless but it lacks the charm that it needs to truly excel. If nothing else, a larger portion of Suessian verse within the dialogue would have made it more memorable and reduced the blandness. As is, The Lorax is an acceptable children’s movie that shouldn’t be too difficult for most non-tree hating adults to sit through.