You would expect a film called The Lorax to feature a healthy amount of the eponymous creature. The lack thereof in the latest animated feature to take on the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss ended up as my biggest complaint. Having no recollection of ever reading The Lorax, I’m not sure if the fault lies mainly with the source material or the filmmakers but creative liberties are a given considering the book is a mere 45 pages and mostly filled with pictures and small blurbs of text. Yet within this 94 minute romp is a gorgeous setting with a quality voice cast but an ultimately disappointing story.
The main quibble with the lack of the Lorax is not because he simply isn’t in the film enough. It’s because Danny DeVito is one of those rare matches that fits perfectly to the character. He gives the character life that shines through on the screen whenever he appears, huffing and puffing some lines while threatening violence without any menace behind it. This becomes all the more confusing when you see that he is in the film for such a small portion. He is front and center in most of the advertisements, and the poster is clearly showcasing him but he appears in roughly 25-30 minutes in the film.
In a mythical town named Thneed-ville lives a boy named Ted (Zac Efron), which has been slowly transformed into an artificial paradise. The trees are powered by batteries and that messy, dirty “nature” stuff is shunned in place of modern day conveniences such as purified air that is distributed like spring water in bottles. As a lot of these journeys start, Ted has a crush, specifically on a girl named Audrey (Taylor Swift) who voices her dream to see a real tree. That leads Ted to seek out the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who is said to know where the last tree is. So the Once-ler tells Ted about the way he met the mythical grump called the Lorax (Danny DeVito) and how it all went downhill from there. Problem is, the Once-ler lives outside of the town barrier and the mayor, Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), is not about to let Ted simply bring nature back into his peaceful town that he has a hold of.
The landscape throughout is lush and gorgeous. The addition of 3D adds a depth and clarity that makes those bright colors truly pop despite the dimming. Illumination Entertainment likely had fun playing with the zany color palette and odd technology throughout. No vehicle is alike, and every one seems to have some sort of overexaggerated portion or quirk. The forest creatures, in particular, are highlights as well. They have comically large eyes and will be a surefire hit with the kiddos. But all of that beauty means very little if you can’t keep the film flowing well. There is a certain quality of rhyme that Dr. Seuss is known for. He manages to place great rhythm and understanding that is easy for kids to pick up. That simply isn’t the case with the musical numbers of The Lorax.
If you have seen Helms in TV’s The Office or the Hangover films, you might have some idea that the man loves to sing. He’s got a great voice and nice range, but his talents aren’t given proper use here. The musical cues continually crop up through The Lorax and it’s a jarring halt of flow that doesn’t leave you in a happy place afterward. The songs aren’t outright terrible, but they are highly forgettable at their best and irritating at their worst. Yet there they are, popping up again and again.
There is a careful lesson within the film and the fact that the Lorax simply sits on the sideline is potent in a climactic showdown with Once-ler near the halfway point of the film. Forest creatures have no legal backchannels. They have no way to truly fight back, so it is very much up to us to do what we can to conserve and protect the planet that we live on. If something about that message feels wrong to you, I’d suggest living on an island for a while and see how it goes. That being said, if you close your eyes for a minute or two during one of the oddly spoken word rap songs by Once-ler, you may miss that message completely—in an hour and a half film. That message is given an enormous thrust in the last musical number but it becomes more of a finger-pointing example instead of a gradual lesson.
Overall, Illumination Entertainment’s follow-up to Despicable Me is a disappointment. While that film had quiet lessons and memorable characters throughout, The Lorax is a whimper and a sigh. At times it is funny and it’s a wonder to behold. However I expect more from my children’s films and I don’t necessarily need Pixar quality to be happy. Nix the musical numbers and this might be a cute, forgettable film. That simply isn’t happening, though, so it becomes hard for me to recommend. Add in the weak message and I’m not sure you have a lot of reason to see it outside of the forest creatures and the Lorax.