“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.”
With those words pretty much every child in existence was taught a lesson on conservation and environmentalism. Of course back when I was a kid there was no Fox News telling us that environmentalists were evil and Dr. Seuss is probably a communist, Nazi, socialist, illegal alien. No back then a story about saving trees was easily a good thing, and the lesson we learned was that unless we cared a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s just not.
But we don’t live then and we do have Fox News. So how does the iconic Dr. Seuss tale fare in the light of the modern day, where it could easily be taken as too political? That depends. Do you have a stick up your ass or do you think a story that teaches just as much about loyalty, honesty and commitment as it does the environment can be a good thing?
Directors: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
Release Date: March 2, 2012
Obviously some things had to change when translating The Lorax to the big screen. A bit more of a plot was needed and character development had to be fleshed out. Plus, if everyone talked in Dr. Seuss’ style of rhyme for the entire thing the audience would shoot themselves. So we have have few new aspects to the story. Ted (Zak Efron), who lives in a town made completely out of plastic — even the trees — is your average kid from your average animated film. When the girl he has a crush on expresses her wish to see a real tree Ted escapes out of town after being told of the Once-ler (Ed Helms) by his grandmother (Betty White). From there the tale of the Once-ler unfolds in flashback as we learn how all the trees were cut down despite the efforts of the Lorax (Danny DeVito) and the fact that the Once-ler wasn’t always such a bad guy.
It’s actually quite impressive how “Suessian” the entire film feels. Despite my wishes that the animation style was a bit more Dr. Seuss and a bit less Despicable Me, I do have to admit that the look worked for reproducing all of Suess’ iconic characters. Much like the aforementioned film the 3D in this looks great, but is mostly there simply to throw fun things at the screen and make the kids jump. Nothing wrong with that, but not necessarily worth the extra cash. In fact The Lorax has a lot in common with Despicable Me (obviously it’s the same studio). The woodland characters in The Lorax take the place of the Minions in Despicable Me and directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda once again show a true understanding of how to make children’s animation fun to watch.
The also have a very clear understanding of how to make an environmental film. The Lorax is about as subtle as a Michael Moore film in its philosophical leanings. One song in particular, “How Bad Can I Be,” where we see the transformation of the Once-ler from hard worker to evil, corporate billionaire, is laced with acerbic insults towards big corporations, pollution and industry. And it should be that way. By not shying away from the environmental themes of the book and in fact amplifying them to the nth degree The Lorax makes a film that gets the book’s message across to a society that has 500 more voices yelling at it then when the book was published. It’s impressive though that it’s still the direct Dr. Seuss quotes used in the movie that resonate the most.
But who cares about the film’s environmental leanings, really? This is a kid’s movie and the end goal is for it to be fun. And The Lorax definitely is fun. Despite the fact that its title character is actually more of a supporting actor as the tale now really revolve around Ted and the Once-ler, the movie never looses its charm or enjoy-ability. What it is lacking is a bit of the heart that the truly great modern day animations have. You’re never quite connected with the Lorax, Ted or the Once-ler like you are with Gru or, to an even more extreme extent, Woody and Buzz. It’s not that important since the film is enjoyable enough and the music numbers are clever, but it keeps the movie from being a truly great animated film.
What I really wish the film had a bit more of was the Lorax himself. As I mentioned before he’s definitely a secondary character in the film, but his role as a whole is almost unimportant. Maybe that’s the way it should be, in that the lesson of the film is that we need to fix things, not some mythical forest creature. However, giving the title character a little more screentime and a little more depth would have helped the film go a long way. As it stands the character is more of an excuse for Danny DeVito to throw out one-liners.
Good one-liners, though. That might sum up the whole movie, in fact. There’s plenty of good going on here, but everything could have used a bit more heart and soul to really make it great. The Lorax is some fun animated fare and unless you really, really hate trees, adorable animals and all forms of nature it’s worth your time.