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'The Lorax' Charms but is Unimaginatively Predictable

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012

Updated: Thursday, March 1, 2012 15:03

 

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

Starring Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift

Directed by Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda

Rated PG

Opens Friday

 

Grade: C

 

Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, is perhaps one of the most celebrated writers of all time. Most kids of the 20th century have heard of the Grinch, "Green Eggs and Ham" or the Cat known for wearing a hat.

The Lorax, on the other hand, isn't a brand that everyone knows. Created in 1971, late in Seuss' career, "The Lorax" was an environmental call to arms. It was dark and depressing in its indictment of logging practices. It's Seuss' most mature work despite the rhyming and cute characters.

The book was not without controversy and neither is the movie. Consider that Lou Dobbs rallied against the movie, calling it anti-industrial and indoctrination. While that word might be a little strong, the idea is sound. "The Lorax" comes off as preachy, simplified and pure propaganda. The question becomes, is propaganda okay if you agree with the message?

Ted (Zac Efron) is a 12-year-old living in the town of Thneedville, a town without trees. In an almost-dystopian way, Thneedville is polluted, overcrowded and owned by the greedy, pint-sized O'Hare (Rob Riggle). Fresh air is sold like bottled water and the trees are inflated plastic, usually equipped with electronic gadgetry.

Spurred by his affection for Audrey (Taylor Swift), Ted goes in search for the missing trees. He comes upon a mysterious being named the Once-ler (Ed Helms) to learn the story of the Lorax, the Thneed and the "Truffala" trees.

The flashback-style storytelling accomplishes what the book did: how did we get here? From there audiences learn about Oncer-ler's greed and the deforestation that followed. The orange, puffy Lorax sporting a ridiculous walrus moustache is expertly voiced by Danny DeVito, who handles most of the comedy and serious dramatic moments.

Unfortunately, the other characters are mostly one-note. Audrey is the requisite love interest. The villain O'Hare, who wasn't even in the original book, is shallow and uninteresting.

As it stands, the movie is entertaining but predictable. The problems with the storyline and characters come from the source material but, unlike the simplistic "Horton Hears a Who," nothing gets fixed. Yes, this might have to do with the voice actors, who neither craft memorable characters or funny performances.

That honor goes to the Humming-Fish, the bear-like Bar-ba-loots and duck-like Swomee-Swans of the forest. Starting every scene, the teddy bears do something cute, the swans do something funny and the fish sing. These 15-second comedy skits not only keep the children engaged but are broad enough to be funny to every age. A fish with flashlight eyes or the heavyset bear offer some of the biggest laughs. Really, the scenes and their use are genius.

It's those additions that elevate the movie. However, the problem still remains. It's not bad to promote recycling, environmentalism or condemn wanton industrialism and greed. But without the subtlety of "Wall-E," the immediacy of "FernGully" or the satire of "Over the Hedge," "The Lorax" falls short. The worst moment of the movie features a well-known catchphrase linked to the Wall Street scandals during the best song of the movie, "How Can I be Bad," where Once-ler willfully pays the price of progress.

In the end, we're left with a dark, albeit at times beautiful, analysis of the human condition – one that will more than likely go over kids' heads.

And that brings us back to the question: Is propaganda okay? Is Lou Dobbs right, regardless of his position and whether you agree with it? Movies have always had the power to change hearts and minds.

With "The Lorax," – and the ham-fisted way its message is delivered – it's an iffy prospect. 

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