Directed by Chris Renaud & Kyle Balda
In the continuing effort to translate Dr. Seuss classics into big-screen, computer-animated film-events, his 1971 cautionary tale about environmental destruction is now a 3-D movie, written and directed by much of the team from Despicable Me. Understandably, the story has been expanded, with additional characters, subplots and superstar voices. But in their efforts to make a kid-friendly hit, some of the darker aspects of the book have been pushed aside.
When the film opens, the main action in the book has already happened: all the Truffula trees in Thneedville are gone, and an evil, pint-sized magnate controls the town’s air (natural air now being a scarce commodity). But as plastic as it looks, Thneedville still seems like a fun place to live (the filmmakers admit they used Disneyland and Vegas as inspiration). Nor does it help the film’s theme that our hero, Ted (Zac Efron), wants to bring back the town’s trees not out of a sense of ecological responsibility but to impress his crush, Audrey (Taylor Swift). Ted learns about his town’s original incarnation from the Onceler (Ed Helms), a once-wealthy inventor who spun thneeds (multi-purpose garments) out of the trees, before he chopped them all down. The film seems to blame the Onceler and his air-selling colleague for the town’s condition, but someone had to buy all those thneeds, right? (just one example of how some tinkering could have made this a much sharper script). The songs are also not really needed, save for a Beauty and the Beast-style “here is our town” opening, and a pop-rock-rap illustrating the Onceler’s descent into capitalistic decadence, like a Schoolhouse Rock lesson on how to lose your soul.
Where The Lorax hooks you in is its look: vibrant, psychedelic colors, appropriately Seussian animals and townspeople, and several lively chase scenes, all of which make good use of the 3-D. It’s certainly fun to watch, sure to draw in the kids and give their parents something to marvel at, but the film’s ecological message may get lost amongst all the fireworks.
Opens March 2