A reason exists why Dr. Seuss books are often quite successful as 30-minute (or less) television specials, for Theodore Seuss Geisel’s simple stories pack the most punch towards a kid’s imagination when left to their bare bones selves. However, Hollywood simply cannot resist monetizing anything, and of course, the political pundits cannot resist appropriating the cinematic output for their own devices. It’s such a bloody shame.
For the same reason that rightwing nutjobs shouldn’t be allowed to pilfer “A person’s a person no matter how small” from Horton Hears a Who, leftwing propagandists shouldn’t hope to carry any significance from the tree-hugging theme of The Lorax either. It’s a children’s movie, and it’s meant to entertain. Sure, let’s not kill the trees, but don’t expect the kids to remember any sort of message when the entire story has been bogged down and convoluted to drag this production out to feature length. The core of the source material remains mostly intact, but the story receives much padding to reach 102 minutes of running time. This extra stuff neither adds nor takes away from the value of the main lesson but simply fills time. With that said, the book’s lesson — “Unless someone like you cares a whole, awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — that was put to paper in 1971 is still amazingly relevant and can be applied to all facets of life (not just the environment). In theory, anyway.
As an Illumination Entertainment production, I’m sad to say that I was neither terribly impressed nor completely disappointed by The Lorax, which is merely just fine compared to most children’s entertainment. It doesn’t carry the charm of Horton, and it’s not as fun (or slyly subversive) as director Chris Renaud’s most recent project, Despicable Me. Instead, Seuss’ relatively dark tale has been transformed into a candy-corn confection, and the titular character has been largely reduced to a number of sight gags. So while the film is technically faithful to the book, it still suffers a great loss in term of its essence.
Here’s what happens, and fans of the book will easily recognize what’s been added or modified from the original story. Seuss’ tale is reframed through introducing Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), a 12-year-old boy who has a massive crush on slightly older Audrey (Taylor Swift). They live in the Thneedville where all trees (and everything else) are synthetic, and the air supply is controlled by Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), who sells bottled air to great profit. When Ted learns that Audrey wants nothing more than to witness a living Truffula tree, that’s all the motivation he needs to start tracking down The Once-ler (Ed Helms) with the help of his Grammy Norma (Betty White). Soon, Ted is zooming along on his motorbike in raucous fashion and fully hijacking the simplicity of Seuss’ work, but I guess that’s the only method of reaching kids from some filmmakers’ point of view. That is, throwing a bunch of exciting shit into the fray like it’s a Wii game instead of a movie.
Not only does the movie present Mr. O’Hare as a new villainous presence, but it jacks up the Once-Ler as well. In the book, we only see The Once-Ler’s arms, but in the movie, he’s fully formed in the physical sense (and given a family as well), which humanizes him and makes us actually feel sorry for the dude, thereby defeating his once villainous purpose. Fortunately, his tales are still related through a series of flashbacks, and The Once-ler reveals how (motivated by greed) he destroyed all of the trees. Of course, The Lorax (Danny DeVito) is the guardian of the forest, so he was having none of that shit and tried to warn them all. Readers of the book can take it from here, and for the rest of you, I won’t spoil.
As far as the CGI animation goes, Lorax looks as good as Horton with even better attention to whimsy and color detail (as long as you don’t get stuck with the necessary dimness of 3D), and the sight of the Truffula trees is one to behold. You’ll want to take at least one of those furry lollipops home for yourself. How’s the voicework? Passable, but no awards need be handed in any cast member’s direction (I defer to Chris Rock’s assessment of voice gigs during his recent Oscars presenting duties). Of them all, DeVito fares the best and infuses his Lorax incarnation with a little more pep and less crotchetiness than one would expect, but I really think he was aiming to avoid the creepiness of Mike Myers’ turn in Cat in the Hat. Ultimately, that’s the most standout aspect of the entire affair; for as a Seussian adaptation, The Lorax is no Cat in the Hat, which is something for which all parents in the audience should be entirely grateful. Still, The Lorax would probably be best appreciated by those who are entirely unfamiliar with its literary source material. Together, the mood change along with added subplots, characters, and songs, are more than enough to piss off the Seuss purists. Then again, if one expects an entirely faithful adaptation, don’t expect Hollywood to deliver.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.