Directors Kyle Balda and Chris Renaud tackle the work of everyone’s favorite doctor. No, not Dr. Oz, but the one who had us introduced to the joys of anapaestic tetrameter as kids, long before we could pronounce the term. Dr. Seuss’ The Loraxis an entertaining and cautionary tale that stays true to the spirit of the good doctor while delivering a message that couldn’t have been better timed.With only a couple dozen pages of source material to work from, it’d be foolish to discount the work that the filmmakers had to flesh the story out into a 94 minute film. Luckily, Renaud brings the writing team (Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio) behind 2010′s surprise hit Despicable Me to helpp bring The Lorax alive to a new generation.
Less gloomy than the book, but staying true to its spirit, our tale begins with the Lorax warning us that the story is not quite what you’d expect. Ted (Zac Efron) is a precocious 12-year-old in the town of Thneedville, flying through the streets on a kind of motorized unicycle. His town is like a cartoon of a cartoon where nothing grows and everything is plastic, including plastic trees. The only thing organic is his crush on the long-haired ginger girl named Audrey (Taylor Swift).
When he learns her dream of seeing a real tree, he turns into a kid on a mission enlisting the help of his Grammy Norma (Betty White). She tells him of a stranger outside of town called the Once-Ler (Ed Helms) who may be able to help. Ted manages to escape the high metal walls that encircle the city to find the Once-ler. Once there, the mysterious hermit speaks of his origin. Through flashbacks, we find out that the Once-ler was once a hick with an eye towards being the next great inventor of an all purpose garment called the Thneed. To get the right fabric, he had to betray the forest animals that so quickly embraced him.
Released on Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel’s birthday, The Lorax is not only well-timed from a marketing standpoint, but a well made film that pays tribute to Seuss’ genius. It’s cautionary tale against harm done to the environment due to man’s constant consumerism isn’t as gloomy as the book, but the story is just as relevant despite the inclusion of musical numbers and the slightly used love interest.
Renaud makes the characters just as cute and offbeat as in the book but isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when showing the Once-Ler’s wreckless ambition, hubris and ultimate quest for redemption. The colorful Truffula trees which resemble giant pinwheels of cotton candy are enticing enough to eat, which makes their loss seem all the more tragic. Consequences are shown without giving the kids nightmares, but seeing once happy Humming-fish covered in sludge is enough to touch even the most cynical of adults.
The insertion of musical numbers seems a requisite for most animated features, especially in the post-Shrek era. Although they seem a little out of place here, the overall beauty of the animation makes it forgivable.
Danny DeVito as the Lorax “speaks for the trees” and although introduced in a magical way, uses his voice due to lack of superpowers (Keep in mind, this was at least 20 years before Captain Planet). DeVito hits all the right notes lecturing the Once-ler in a stern way that makes you miss real or surrogate grandparents. Rob Riggle as the evil O’Hare is one the most likable animated bad guys in a while. From his inverted bowlcut to his use of twin sinister henchman, you almost feel bad for how he ends up.
With 3D being a part of so much live-action, it’s ironic that animation is where it seems the most appropriate. CGI animated chase scenes such as when Ted evades O’Hare and his minions are what truly captures the heart-pounding effects of 3D. While The Lorax doesn’t match the 3D use of How to Train Your Dragon, it’s definitely worth springing for the extra cash.
The Lorax is a testament to how an animated feature could be done while delivering a message that kids need to hear. While their older siblings (and parents) wait to line up for the newest iPad, kids can look at The Lorax and be reminded of what happens when “biggerism” gets out of control and how they can make a difference.