The Lorax

Dr. Seuss' beloved children's story comes to the big screen

The Lorax

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Directed by Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda. Featuring the voices of Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate, Stephen Tobolowsky. Written by Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul, from the book by Dr. Seuss.

Please note: in Prague, The Lorax is only screening (in 2D and 3D) in a Czech-dubbed version. Currently in the US, I had a chance to catch the English-language (2D) version. 

Dr. Seuss’ children’s book The Lorax presented a simple eco-friendly message that warned against the dangers of corporate greed: in a barren, decimated environment, the Once-ler tells the story of how his lust for producing Thneeds (and his ignorance of the titular character’s warnings) robbed the landscape of trees and drove away the wildlife.

This new movie, directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda (both of whom previously worked on the surprisingly fun Despicable Me) contains the same message, but wraps so much other gobbledygook around it that the message is nearly lost. The vaguely polluted experience of watching The Lorax seems to contradict its central theme.

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The film shifts focus to Ted (voiced by Zac Efron, who seems to be doing a Back to the Future Michael J. Fox imitation), who wants to find a tree to impress a girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift). They’re both residents of the plastic, sanitized village of Thneedville, which features no dirt, grass, wildlife, or trees – only inflatable, light-up replicas.

In search of the mystical Truffula tree, Ted ventures outside the city walls to find a desolate wasteland. Here, he locates the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who knows what has happened to all the trees; the Once-ler relates his story to Ted, which is mostly faithful to the Seuss book, and includes the fluffy Truffula trees, the friendly woodland creatures, and The Lorax (Danny DeVito, in a perfect bit of voice casting), who speaks for the trees for the trees have no tongues.

The Once-ler’s story is effective, and the film is at it’s very best whenever DeVito’s Lorax is on the screen (which isn’t enough, considering he’s the title character), but it only amounts to less than half of the film. Then there’s all this other stuff involving the residents of Thneedville, and Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), who sells bottled air (not all that far-fetched) and runs the town, and provides the film with an easy villain. 

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The Seuss book ended ambiguously, calling out to the reader; in this, and it’s lack of a defined villain, it was a memorable cautionary tale that directly involved us. The movie just wants to entertain us, with dazzling CGI visuals, frequent song-and-dance numbers, one-liners, and visual gags. Whenever the message is brought into the fairground, it comes across as heavy-handed.

The animation is also generally disappointing; human characters feel incredibly generic, lacking the imagination that the same team brought to Despicable Me. The Lorax himself – and the furry woodland critters, and Truffula trees – fare a good deal better, and retain some of the artistry of the original Seuss designs.

While I didn’t particularly like the film, the themes that are touched upon make this ideal fare for younger viewers, who may still yet glean the eco-friendly message out from the plastic atmosphere. As generic as The Lorax feels, it’s a lot better for kids than, say, Cars 2.

The original Seuss books – and, perhaps, the 1970s half-hour TV specials – remain enduringly popular amongst young audiences, their recent transition to the big screen has proved to be less than fully satisfying. The Lorax joins the animated Horton Hears a Who and the live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas and (shudder) The Cat in the Hat as bloated and rather unmemorable versions of Seuss classics.

It’s tempting to recommend The Lorax for being a (relatively) faithful – if thoroughly modernized for mass-market consumption – version of the Dr. Seuss story at all. But no; in five or ten years, the original book will still be a beloved classic, and this feature film version is destined to be all but forgotten.

Stick around during the end credits, which scroll over some of the classic Dr. Seuss illustrations from the book.

Also opening: Probudím se včera (showtimes), a sci-fi comedy from director Miloslav Šmídmajer (Peklo s princeznou) starring Jiří Mádl, Eva Josefíková, Filip Blažek, and Viktor Preiss. Screening in Czech.

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