Directed By: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
Written By: Cinco Paul, Dr. Seuss
Starring: Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Betty White
Bringing Dr. Seuss’ stories to the big screen has been a mixed bag. There have been some successes but also some colossal failures. In fact the live-action version of The Cat in the Hat was so horrid it caused Dr. Seuss’s family to say, “Let’s just stick with animation”, which has helped yield better results. The latest adaptation is this year’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. With any adaptation of a children’s book there is an inherited challenge of figuring out how to stretch the story to fit it to the feature length format. Without a fine hand the addition of the extra plot can come off as unnatural and forced. This is especially the case with Dr. Seuss’ books, because personally I never read one and thought, “You know what this story needs? More plot”. Unfortunately ’The Lorax’ wasn’t able to find a complete solution to that problem. While certain elements may seem to enhance to overall message they in fact take significance away from the fundamental theme.
The story centers around a boy named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) who lives in the town of Thneed-Ville a city lacking anything natural. There are no trees, grass, or dirt. Also the selling of fresh air has become a big business. Mr. O’Hare, the founder of O’Hare Air, has taken complete control of the city of Thneed-Ville and hopes to keep the world exactly how it is. There may be a small snag in that plan, however as Ted is about to stumble across the mystery of what happened to all the trees. In typical boy fashion Ted’s motivation to find the answer to this mystery is the hope it will win the heart of a girl. Taylor Swift gives the voice for Audrey, the girl of Ted’s dreams, whose love of trees causes Ted to think he has found a way to impress her. Ted finds out the answer to the tree disappearance can be found with The Once-ler who lives outside the tall walls of Thneed-Ville. Apprehensive at first, because no one ever leaves Thneed-Ville, Ted decides he will seek out the Once-ler. The majority of this portion of the story is not found in the original Lorax book. While most of it wasn’t an issue the creation of the Mr. O’Hare character was a change the story would have been better without. It came off as a screen writer’s incessant need to have some sort of overarching villain to create conflict. If they looked closer enough they would have seen that the core story already shows us who the true villain is.
The core story begins when Ted finally meets up with the Once-ler. Ed Helms provided the voice for the character and does a solid job. His ability to sell innocence worked well with the development of the character. Also his singing ability really came into play throughout the film. I was glad to see an animated film with actual music numbers again. It’s something animation has gotten away from in the last decade or so and I hope this will lead to a new revolution. The numbers here were decent with a few standouts, but nothing came off as outstanding or amazing. We learn that The Once-ler was responsible for the world that Ted currently lives in. Back when he was a young man the Once-ler was full of dreams. He felt his Thneed invention will be the product everyone will need. When he begins to cut down trees for his Thneeds he garners the attention of the Lorax the mystical creature that speaks for the trees. Danny DeVito voiced the Lorax and fit the character perfectly. It was a natural fit as DeVito was able to convey the harsh attitude and protective nature of the character. The Lorax warns the Once-ler of the consequences for cutting down trees, but seeing the success of his Thneeds the Once-ler decides to ignore these warnings . He creates a Thneed factory and begins massively cutting down all the forest’s trees. The once beautiful land is turned into a wasteland void of life. When the final tree is cut the Lorax departs leaving the Once-ler to look upon what he has done. After hearing this story Ted is inspired to show the world the beauty of trees and nature once more. Mr. O’Hare gets wind of this plan and uses all of his money and power in an attempt to stop Ted from ruining everything he has built. With O’Hare and the entire town of Thneed-Ville against him Ted attempts to show them that things will never get better if no one cares.
One of Dr. Suess’ greatest ability was his talent to be subtle but still develop a deep message. This film ripped away that subtleness and replaced it with a very heavy-handed forced message. To the films credit it tried to stay true to the original material. Its additions, such as the character of O’Haire, layered onto what was already there. That led you to get inundated with the same idea over and over. The issue I had with the O’Haire was the fact he felt like a comp out. His character added to the message, but took away from the purpose of the story. The key statement in the entire Lorax film is,”Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, things aren’t going to get better. They’re not”. The key world in that quote is you. Ted is meant to be a representation for the audience. Giving him this O’Haire character takes away from that idea. The message of self-responsibility becomes over shadowed by the evil corporate villain archetype. The villain in the story should essential be man’s ignorance and lack of responsibility. What makes the Once-ler story work is that the Once-ler is unwilling to accept the tragedy he is causing. Deep down he knows it’swrong, but his own desires and ambitions are getting in the way. They are the same type of mistakes people make every day. O’Haire, on the other hand, is just an evil mastermind. Instead of creating a film that allows us to look at ourselves and our own action they created one that is all about pointing the blame at an easy target. I understand the need to create conflict I just think there was a better way to handle it.
It may seem weird that I’m getting into the philosophical issues with an animated film, but it was a big part of the overall movie. There are plenty things to enjoy. It is a film that both kids and adults will enjoy. The term family film is one that actual fits here. The laughs are steady and pace was well kept. There wasn’t any time that I was bored or waiting for something to happen. While this was created by the makers of Despicable Me it’s not to that level. The writing isn’t as clever, and except for the Lorax there aren’t many characters that will stay with you after the movie is over. Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax will certainly provide a fun time, but its attempt to be more then that was failure.