Starring: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift
Directed by: Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”) and Kyle Balda (debut)
Written by: Ken Daurio (“Despicable Me”)
Look, we’ve been getting adaptations of Dr. Seuss books for the better part of 70 years, so what’s the use in complaining now? After all, Seuss’ collaborations with animation pioneers like Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Friz Freleng produced some charming little shorts that brought Seuss’ pictures and poetry perfectly to life. These efforts even produced a bona fide classic in Jones’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” TV special, which on its own earns enough goodwill to make you forget someone thought it was a good idea to make a punishing 104-minute live action version of the same story.
With Seuss’ widow putting the kibosh on any more flesh-and-blood adaptations of her late husband’s work, a return to animation, now of the three-dimensional computer-generated variety, was in order. After all, there’s money to be made and plenty of Seuss’ books not yet clumsily stretched to feature length. In a move that comically echos the Once-ler’s desire to make mass-market garbage nobody needs at the expense of something beautiful, the filmmakers gleefully chopped down one of Seuss’ literary trees in order to summon this Lorax.
Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda (both veterans of “Despicable Me”), “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” is a cinematic exercise that simply misses the point. No doubt the movie is visually exciting, having been given the full candy-colored 3D-CGI treatment. This version allows each bright Truffula tuft and dingy mustache hair to pop off the screen and sway gently in the digital breeze. But the story, which wraps an inflated version of the tale told in the book in a heavy-handed anti-corporate/love story framing device, commits the cardinal sin of children’s entertainment: it’s boring.
The film opens with a musical tribute to the perfect artificiality of Thneedville, a “Truman Show”-esque walled compound ruled by corporate overlord O’Hare (voice of Rob Riggle), an evil capitalist with a stature and hair style reminiscent of Edna Mode from “The Incredibles.” Thneedville is home to Ted (voice of Zac Efron), a young boy in love with Audrey (voice of Taylor Swift), the artsy girl across the street who wants nothing more than to see a real tree, proclaiming she’ll marry the first boy who can deliver one. Ted is inspired and, after a tip from his grandmother (voice of Betty White), sets out to find the Once-ler (voice of Ed Helms), the mysterious man who knows what happened to all the trees. The Once-ler has a shameful secret, a troubled past he recounts to Ted, namely how he came to know the creature known as the Lorax (voice of Danny DeVito).
The strain of extending Seuss’ fable to feature length begins to wear on the viewer, primarily in the middle of the movie as we’re mired in one of the Once-ler’s extended flashbacks. More than once the story shifts away from the Once-ler’s point of view, recounting details he was not present/conscious for. Did The Lorax fill him in later? And while the movie’s over-arching environmental message is noble, “The Lorax” does not exist in a vacuum. One can’t help but wonder how audiences might reconcile the conservation/anti-consumerism mindset on display in the film with the mustachioed visage of The Lorax being used to sell SUVs, disposable diapers, and candy-sprinkled breakfast foods once they leave the theater.
The Lorax speaks for the trees…and also for Truffula Chip Pancakes, available for a limited time, only at IHOP!