by Ryan Hill
Adapting a Dr. Seuss book into a movie has so far proved to be a hit-or-miss endeavor. The two live-action films, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Cat in the Hat,” were both varying degrees of terrible. “Horton Hears a Who,” however, eschewed live action for computer animation in an effort to stay true to Seuss’ illustrations and turned out to be a success. “The Lorax,” the latest Seuss book to get the Hollywood treatment, falls somewhere in the middle of these previous efforts.
One of Suess’ darker tales, “The Lorax” is about the Once-ler, a greedy young man who cuts down Truffala trees so he can create Thneed, an all-purpose product everybody and their brother wants to purchase. Despite the pleas and warnings from the Lorax, a small, orange creature with a bushy yellow mustache, the Once-ler’s greed proves to be his undoing as the entire forest – wildlife, water and finally the Truffala trees – is destroyed.
The film version tries to flesh out this story by focusing on the boy, now named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), who visits the Once-ler (Ed Helms) to hear his story.
Ted lives in Thneedville, an enclosed city made up entirely of plastic and metal, not an organic thing in sight. The city is so polluted that the No. 1 manufactured product is clean air. Ted ventures outside the city to find the Once-ler and a real, live tree he can give to Audrey (Taylor Swift), a girl he likes.
From there the film becomes a mish-mash of the book and this new plotline, which serves to help the film reach its 94-minute runtime. The portions that focus on the actual book are enthralling and remain fairly loyal to the source material. The plot involving Ted, however, plays like a Hollywood-ized version of the original story, complete with songs that are just a little too safe for a story that is about the dangers of greed and industrialism running amuck.
And therein lies the problem with “The Lorax.” The book didn’t pull any punches. It wasn’t a typical happy-go-lucky children’s story simply aimed at warming the heart. The filmmakers, who created the decent enough animated film “Despicable Me,” strain to keep things from becoming too dark or harrowing for children. The Once-ler’s greed is written off as pure naivety, the Lorax’s (Danny DeVito) anger has been watered down for laughs and Ted’s plotline goes over-the-top with a greedy villain who looks like a cross between Moe from “The Three Stooges” and Edna Mode from the Pixar classic “The Incredibles.”
The friction between the stark warning Seuss presents with the efforts to create a profitable children’s film leaves “The Lorax” with competing tones battling for supremacy. Yes, “The Lorax” is still very much a story about saving the environment and the dangers inherent in industrialism, but it pulls so many punches that the film is clearly straining to be as mainstream and commercially viable as possible, ultimately creating what can only be called a greedy environmental film.
Grade: 2 out of 4
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language
Cast: Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Danny DeVito
Studio: Universal Pictures