Starring the Voices of: Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms, Betty White, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate, Nasim Pedrad.
Director: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda
Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures.
Written by: Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul; based on the book “The Lorax” by Theodore Geisel (a/k/a Dr. Seuss).
|“Unless…” – The Lorax (Danny DeVito)Arriving in theaters on the day that Theodore Giesel, a/k/a Dr. Seuss, would have turned 102 years of age, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax hits theaters with huge anticipation, witty and engaging trailering, and Danny DeVito, front and center, as the voice of the irascible Lorax. While capturing the look of Dr. Seuss’ famed book and irreverent style, Dr. Seuss’ The Loraxfinds its greatest deficiencies in a meandering script that expends a great deal of energy reminding us about environmental concerns and should have balanced a message with, you know, some of the source material’s entertainment value.
Co-directed by Chris Renaud (Despicable Me) and Kyle Balda, making his feature film debut, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax takes places in a community known as Thneedville, which is a plastic and artificial enclosed living community, wherein most of the residents have no idea what truly lies beyond the walls of their living area. We soon meet Ted (Zac Efron) who, at the age of 12, has an unquenchable crush on Audrey (Taylor Swift), a high school freshman who has grown tired of the plastic world she lives in and dreams one day of encountering a real life Truffula tree. So enamored with these trees she draws them on her walls and the promise of “probably marrying the person who can bring her one”, sends Ted on a mission to bring the girl of his dreams the one thing that will make Audrey fall in love with him.
On advice of his wise-cracking grandmother (Betty White), Ted seeks out the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a banished shut-in who lives far outside the boundaries of Thneedville. Ted defies the security restraints of his community and breaks free, only to find the world outside dark and foreboding, the air heavy and choking. Arriving at the Once-ler’s lair, he is met with resistance and a gruff, physical confrontation with the Once-ler’s intricate security system of gadgets, hooks, and keep-outs.
Ted remains persistent and agrees to return time and again to listen to the Once-ler’s story, which involves the Once-ler’s encountering of the guardian of the land, The Lorax, who tumbles out of the top of a Truffula tree that the Once-ler cut down in a clear-cutting effort decades before. At this point, much of the film becomes a flashback tale of the Lorax trying to save the forest that the Once-ler’s family is insistent on logging. Danny DeVito has some winning lines, and the film looks colorful and striking, but for much of the film, we are simply repeating a “Save the Environment/Do Not Destroy the Environment” message.
And my hesitancy with Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is not that I abhor that message or find it unnecessary. On the contrary, I am alright with a film espousing the pro-environmental beliefs of the Seuss book and original 1972 made-for-television animated special, which sticks pretty closely to Seuss’ book. Since that was the Dr.’s intent, the material should match that. However, the problem lies in the screenplay by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, which simply pushes its themes way too easy and often. Essentially, Daurio and Paul, have taken the covers of the Seuss book and ripped out much of the inside pages, fashioning their own Seussian take on the messages found in the source material. I suppose one can find some comfort in the fact that Theodore Geisel’s wife, Audrey, served as the Executive Producer on the film, but Daurio and Paul are not able to capture the inventiveness or magic found in the pages of a Dr. Seuss story. Similar to the duo’s screenplay for Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who, the film is amusing, engaging, but ultimately listless and rather dull.
Aside from Danny DeVito, the vocal work is palatable. Ed Helms strikes a nice balance in the generational shift of his character, while Zac Efron and Taylor Swift fail to strike any real chemistry in their interactions together. Comedic actor Rob Riggle tries to infuse some villainous elements to the role of Thneedville Mayor O’Hare. Sadly, Riggle never is given much to do as a villain who bottles and sells air to the naïve Thneedville residents. Although appearing in flashback, DeVito gets the best and richest dialogue and fittingly, The Lorax is very easy to like with his depiction of the little orange activist at the heart of the story.
More than anything, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax succeeds at mediocrity. Kids will love the vibrant colors, witty protagonist, and the sweet natured Bar-Ba-Loots, cuddly little bears who are custom-made to end up in the bedrooms and playrooms of kids for years to come. Beyond that, however, parents may be completely satisfied that another film stimulates their children and gets them talking and emulating some rather harmless characters and themes. But for those older adults and parents who have shared “The Lorax” book with their parents or their children, disappointment will set in with a film that misses capturing much of the joy and excitement found within the pages of a Theodore Geisel story.
Stylish, colorful, and amusing at best, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a hard tryer, but sadly, never gains the sense of importance or entertainment value it promised and should have delivered. Ultimately, this is just another animated kids’ movie at the end of the day and while that may be perfectly fine for most…frankly, I expected better.
Should I See It?
The film will play well with younger viewers as it drops in enough cute and winning moments (Bar-Ba-Loots, The Lorax. strong vivid colorful landscapes) to keep them entertained.
Fans of Dr. Seuss will come out in droves in the hopes that the film captures the intent, spirit, and wonderful nature found in Seuss’ book.
Danny DeVito is a smart choice to play a gruff, but ultimately, kind-hearted creature. His voice work is quite terrific and he is the character that kids and younger viewers will grasp hold of and emulate. If the film becomes a massive hit, Lorax birthday parties and holiday gifts are going to be a part of the rest of 2012.
The environmental message is so heavy-handed that even those who believe in the cause (i.e. yours truly) will have had just about enough of the beating of that drum. The message does not just hang in most of the dialogue but in almost every song lyric, which may gloss over kids’ heads, but for anyone else listening, you simply want to shout out, “Yes, I know…I get it! Alright already…”
To say the other characters are underdeveloped is a bit of an understatement and Zac Efron and Taylor Swift underwhelm in their work here. Of course, the Once-ler and the Lorax drive the ship and Ed Helms does a fine job with his work as the Once-ler, but there is not a lot to really remember outside of those two characters.
This should have been so much more. Dr. Seuss will one day have a terrific modernized film adaptation made from his work, but this…is not it. Mediocrity is unfortunately normal in today’s mainstream cinema, but I, and others, hoped for more. Oh well. Kids will love it though, so at least there is that…