It is difficult to approach a film like “The Lorax” with any semblance of journalistic objectivity. This is a piece of my childhood on display for all to see. Dr. Seuss isn’t merely a storyteller, but one of the most effective political advocates in contemporary literature, finding a way to expose the pitfalls of capitalism (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”) and the American education system (“On Beyond Zebra”) without becoming overly preachy. “The Lorax” is his homage to the environment, similar to “Horton Hears a Who”, but the film isn’t as dense as the source. It’s all harmless fun, but the narrative climax and social critique externalizes the subtleties of the children’s story. A text that required active engagement from readers becomes far too dumb on screen.
Giving the story an added layer (and the ability to double the length of the film’s screen time), we learn much more about the young boy who visits the Once-Ler (Ed Helms). Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) remains content in his plastic little home in the synthetic city of Thneed-Ville. But his romantic crush, Audrey (Taylor Swift), yearns to see a real tree, not the latest model, causing him to do the unthinkable: leave the comforts of Thneed-Ville to ask the Once-Ler where all the trees went. Upon meeting this ominous outsider with far too much insider information, the Once-Ler tests Ted’s patience by telling him the entire story of the trees, and how the Lorax (Danny DeVito), “who speaks for the trees,” as our fury little title character says, tried to make a complacent public care about something that doesn’t align with greed’s bottom line.
We might be far removed from the history of the children’s book, but “The Lorax” is dangerous to indiscriminate capitalism. It speaks directly to the logging industry, also remaining applicable to any major corporation that produces large amounts of waste, whether it is McDonald’s to-go bags or Apple spare parts melted down in other countries. One positive of the film is how much it illuminates. At one point, the Once-Ler proclaims the legality of stripping the forest of its trees in a rather stabbing monologue. Portrayed in the musical intro, the city consists of plastic everything: blow-up plastic trees, an over-abundance of chemicals that make children glow and fresh air sold in cartons that look all too similar to water cartons shipped to businesses, those industrialized locations at the heart of environmental pollution. I can only imagine the high amount of corn syrup in all the food.
“The Lorax’s” problem is pretty simple: it’s not serious enough. When the Once-Ler leaves home in search of his rags-to-riches story, he dons an electric guitar (which he holds on to much of the film) that somehow plays loudly without an amp. This ridiculous shtick sets the mood for the rest of the film, as every musical number is too childish and heavy handed. Oddly, the title voice actors, Efron and Swift, don’t sing at all. In the midst of such colorful digital animation, the music is an unfortunate afterthought that seems either haphazard or completely unnecessary.
Unlike “The Muppets”, which blatantly satirizes big business through villainous Tex Richman, who proclaims his plan to tear down the Muppet Theatre to drill for oil, and then orders his Muppet minions to give a “maniacal laugh” along with him, “The Lorax’s” villain, Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), is too on the nose when he states his desire to sell fresh air in plastic bottles, further pollute the sky and make people more dependent on his product (sounds like another familiar story). The critique takes a wrong turn here. Apathy is far more damning than conspiracy, thus the film’s need for an antagonist undermines the real issue at hand: indifference. I also wonder if anyone noticed the irony of a film about the environment, created by one of those big businesses that causes these problems. Hmmm…
Again, “The Lorax” is harmless because it’s not political enough and does little for older audiences. The best “going green” film remains “WALL-E”, though this one could be a good choice for the Spongebob generation, since it’s just as scattered as the attention span of its target audience. Still, it contains some enjoyment, and the casting of DeVito is nearly ingenious, but the Lorax’s presence is all too brief.
There’s plenty of potential, but in actuality, there is very little for any viewer who’s graduated from elementary school.
At the Movies this Weekend:
A Thousand Words, PG-13
John Carter, PG-13
Friends with Kids, R
Silent House, R
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,
The Salt of Life, NR
Perfect Sense, NR
Cirkus Columbia, NR
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