Everybody loves Dr Seuss, right? The rhythm and rhyme-mastering children’s author is a legend unto himself, even if recent film adaptations of his fine works have been as much hit as miss. This latest adaptation, The Lorax, comes from the director of the witty and charming supervillain caper Despicable Me, Chris Renaud, who also worked on the last computer animated Seuss movie Horton Hears a Who!
Colourful, humorous and with an important if overly hammered-in moral at its centre, The Lorax is a guaranteed hit for young kids and will likely offend only the Grinchiest of adults. But it’s certainly not one of the best animated films of recent years, despite its charms.
The film opens in the town of Thneedville, a cheerful dystopia where everything is plastic, water is toxic and air is pay-per-breath, but everyone seems happy with it. With its futuristic engineering, Thneedville is a shining star amidst the barren landscape that surrounds it, a world after the last tree has been felled.
Determined to impress a girl whose dream is to see a real tree, 12-year-old Ted sneaks out of Thneedville into the grim wilderness beyond. Here he encounters the Once-ler, a mysterious figure who holds himself responsible for the state the world is in. The Once-ler begins to recount his tale of a time before fake plastic trees and bottled air. His story, which takes up at least half the movie, shows him as an ambitious youth, hoping to develop a revolutionary new product called a thneed, made from the nearby Seussian furry trees.
As soon as the young Once-ler chops a tree down, the Lorax appears, a magical moustached chicken nugget-shaped man who “speaks for the trees”. The Lorax pleads with the Once-ler (I can’t help but feel these names only work in Seuss’s particular writing style) to leave the trees be, and when that fails, he conspires with the local fauna to get rid of him. But in the end capitalism and greed win over. Can Ted make everything right again?
Very much a tale of two films, The Lorax intercuts between both with varying success. The flashbacks to the Looney Tunes-ish sparring between the Lorax and the Once-ler are far more entertaining than Ted’s efforts to win the girl and defeat the villainous Mr O’Hare, a tiny fat cat with a monopoly on oxygen. (Disappointingly it is never explained how O’Hare produces oxygen in a world without trees.)
The film’s central message, be nice to the trees, is a simple but pleasant one, and only the right wingingest of folk could disagree with it. It’s a shame however that for a film so opposed to artificiality, that it should feature such a plastic-looking animation style. Obviously Seuss’s drawings were always fantastical, but there’s no texture to the animation, and the real trees look as artificial as the inflatable ones in Thneedville. The look doesn’t match the tone.
And speaking of tone, an odd choice for the film was to insert a handful of music numbers, in the classic Disney style. Alas, none of these are very standout, and the dizzying visuals distract from the lyrics. One song, ‘How Bad Can I Be?’, features a few clever lines about the imagined moralities of capitalism, but also repeatedly insists on stretching out the word “bad” to four syllables. Tim Rice, this ain’t.
Comedy is supplied mostly by supporting characters, especially the bears, birds and amphibious singing fish from the Once-ler’s flashbacks. Kids should be in stitches, and there are definitely one or two just-for-the-parents gags in there too. Voicework is largely fine, with Danny DeVito playing his classic grumpy but loveable role as the Lorax. The Hangover’s Ed Helms gets across the hopes and broken dreams of the Once-ler well, while Betty White has great fun in the recording booth voicing Ted’s excitable grandmother. Zac Efron however is an odd choice for Ted, given the High School Musical star’s character never sings. Also, voicing a 12-year-old with an adult voice makes one less concerned about the bottled air or what’s wrong with the water, and more worried about what hormones are in their food!
The Lorax is a sweet movie that is sadly less than the sum of its parts, mostly due to its cheap-looking animation (although 3D fans will be happy to know lots of stuff pokes out from the screen). But it’s short and its message is a nice one, so in the end it’s hard to feel anything other than a little bit smiley. Nothing wrong with a nice movie every now and again.
The Lorax is released in cinemas across the UK and Ireland this Friday.
The Lorax was released in the US like freakin’ ages ago.
(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)