Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a film that uses the source material rather loosely, fully encompassing it in the form of a flashback. Yes, the children’s book is included in this film, and is actually given a sizable amount of time (maybe 1/3 of the film), but if you’re hoping for the titular character to be given a lot of screen time, you’re going to go home disappointed. The Lorax is a secondary character in a film called “The Lorax.”
Our lead is a kid named Ted (Zac Efron), who looks like he’s a ten-year-old, but sounds like he’s 20. I wasn’t engaged by Efron’s voice work, not because it’s necessarily bad, but because his voice doesn’t fit the model that he’s given. His crush is a high school girl named Audrey (Taylor Swift), who wants nothing more in life than to see a real, live, tree. See, they live in a town called Thneedville, a place where artificial trees are used by its residents. How do they get fresh air? It’s sold to them by a businessman named O’Hare (Rob Riggle), who also happens to be the town’s mayor.
Impressing girls is what kids like this do, so despite having no real reason to do so, Ted decides to skip town (having to get past a steel wall that keeps the residents contained) and find a real tree. Outside of Thneedville, he discovers that the world isn’t all as it had previously seemed, learning that some sort of apocalypse had swept across the land, leaving everywhere but his town a wasteland. He stumbles upon a man called the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who decides to tell him a story about how the world became this way.
It’s at this point in The Lorax when the tone changes, and it actually becomes bearable to watch. Dr. Seuss’ story is told solely through flashbacks, showing us how a man chopped down some trees, a creature called the Lorax (Danny DeVito) told him to stop, and you can pretty much figure it out from there considering what you’ve already been told. It’s here where cute little forest animals get involved, DeVito’s voice acting brings the film to life, and you’re actually enjoying yourself, despite the numerous pop culture references which do not belong in this movie and don’t fit whatsoever.
However, once that flashback gets wrapped up, we still have the main plot to conclude. We go back to Ted, Audrey, Ted’s grandmother (Betty White), and the villain, that O’Hare fellow, and I lost interest again. A few action scenes and then a couple of speeches about environmentalism conclude our film. If you’ve read the book, you’ll be delighted to hear that the film faithfully keeps the same theme as the book, although it comes mostly at the end, appearing out of nowhere without much prior consideration.
I don’t just mean that in a narrative sense, in which the environmental theme pops up because the filmmakers needed to conclude that way. I also mean in terms of the characters, particularly on the part of Audrey. She wants a tree from the very beginning, but apart from the fact that it looks pretty, she doesn’t care what it stands for or what it could mean to everyone. At the end, when the film’s message has to be hammered into our heads, without ever being explained, she jumps on the bandwagon along with Ted. I understand how Ted gets it, as he had just been told the whole Lorax story, but it doesn’t make sense for Audrey or rest of the townsfolk, most of whom have never seen a real tree before.
I get it. I’m putting too much thought into The Lorax. Fine. Let it not make sense. The kids who go see it will probably enjoy it, and their parents will like about 1/3 of it. It doesn’t need to make perfect sense, as it’s movie made almost solely for young audiences. I really do understand that, but it seemed to me as if not a lot of effort was put into the plot from the filmmakers’ perspective, and that doesn’t stand with me. The book was able to get its message across without bringing it up out of nowhere and hammering it over our heads. The film simply doesn’t do the its inspiration justice.
This is also a poorly written film. The jokes are awful and filled with pop culture references, some of the dialogue is laughable, and the plot is as cliché as you can get. Zac Efron’s voice didn’t fit his character, Taylor Swift couldn’t deliver a line without sounding ridiculous, and the villain, O’Hare, didn’t fit all that well given that he’s not really all that evil. The stakes aren’t high, the Once-ler is human as opposed to an ambiguous species (that bother me, okay?), and the whole production is surprisingly boring. Oh, and it’s in 3D, which looks fine, but not worth the extra cash it’ll cost to get you those glasses.
Where it shines is in the voice work from Ed Helms and Danny DeVito, with both actors turning in enthusiastic and inspired performances. The animation is also on the whole quite good, with the tops of the trees looking absolutely stunning. Seriously, I can only imagine how much work went into creating the engine to govern those trees. The Lorax is also an enjoyable character to watch, both thanks to DeVito’s voice work and also because of his animation. Humans look worse, but then, humans always look worse in these animated films.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax isn’t a good film, and isn’t worth watching unless you’re under the age of, say, ten. Maybe 12. All ages can enjoy the portion of the film that actually tells the story that involves the Lorax, but the parts that surround it are full of cliché, poor or unsuitable voice acting, and tedium. The environmental theme also comes from out of nowhere right at the very end. It looks good, and DeVito brings the titular character to life, but it’s simply not a good movie, adaptation of the popular children’s book or not.