- Rated PG
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All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
ou can see why CGI animators are interested in adapting Dr. Seuss’ work. His characters and landscapes are a production designer’s wet dream, sporting a unique, immediately recognizable style with rarely a right angle in sight. The stories, however, are another matter; no one is going to sit through 90 minutes of rhyming, especially when the characters have no back story to speak of. Sensing the potential for trouble, Illumination shrewdly recruited several of the people responsible for Fox’s adaptation of “Horton Hears a Who” to shepherd “The Lorax,” and the move pays off, even if the movie is too ADD for its own good at times. At the very least, the film makes up for the (awful) live action adaptations that Universal, which distributes Illumination, thrust upon moviegoers a decade ago.
The citizens of Thneedville live wonderfully fake lives. There is no grass, their food looks like Jell-O, and they pay for air. Fun-loving teenager Ted (Zac Efron) thinks nothing of his life until Audrey (Taylor Swift), an older girl on whom Ted has a massive crush, tells him about trees and how she would love to see a real one. Ted’s mother isn’t much use on the subject, but his grandmother (Betty White) suggests that Ted leave town (which no one ever does, because Thneedville is a walled city) and seek out the Once-ler (Ed Helms). Ted finds the Once-ler in a run-down house on a smog-covered, barren countryside, and day by day, the Once-ler tells Ted the story of how he started a business selling thneeds, which were made from truffula trees. After he chopped a truffula tree to start making his thneeds, the Once-ler received a visit from the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a diminutive orange creature who warned him against destroying the landscape for financial gain.
The environmental aspect of “The Lorax” makes it a tricky story to adapt. Go too far, and you’re preaching; don’t go far enough, and you’re missing the point. Screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul make two key additions to the story that serve both sides of the environmental discussion: they give the Once-ler a motive for his blind ambition, one that isn’t rooted in simple greed (his mother, natch), and the movie’s villain, pipsqueak businessman Mayor O’Hare (Rob Riggle), is more parody than true baddie. It’s tough to make jokes about destroying the Earth, but “The Lorax” finds the right balance.
And did we mention that this is a musical? That might seem odd on the surface, but music has played a large role in Seuss’ work, from the TV special “Dr. Seuss on the Loose” (the one with “The Sneetches”) to Chuck Jones’ adaptation of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The songs here are ridiculously busy, and none of them hold a candle to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” but they’re entertaining nonetheless. The animation is absolutely gorgeous, the voice work is solid (though there are no real standout performances, save perhaps Betty White) and the singing goldfish nearly steal the film. They’re awfully fond of the first-person POV shots, though, clearly designed to show off the 3D, but they go to that well far too often, especially in the big climactic chase scene.
“The Lorax” takes far more liberties with the source material than “Horton Hears a Who” did. That is bound to upset some Geisel purists, and to be fair, we can see why. It takes an admittedly breezy approach to a serious topic, but like it or not, it’s the right call. If you don’t include the spoonful of sugar here, all you’re left with is medicine. Good luck selling that to your kids.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray for "The Lorax" is riddled with extras, but many of them are more trouble than they're worth. The mini-movies that they're promoting in the TV spots are quite funny ("Serenade" is our favorite), but from there it's as if they attempted to turn the entire disc into an Easter egg hunt. There are small videos and test animations dedicated to each of the major characters, which feature interviews with the voice talent as well as adorable clips of the head artist teaching a group of kids how to draw each animal. Navigating those small videos, though, is not very intuitive, and then there is the 8-bit-type video game dedicated to getting Ted's character out of Thneedville. It's a clever idea, but we only lasted 10 minutes before giving up and saying, "Yeah, you're right, there is no getting out of Thneedville." To summarize, much to love, but the layout could use some TLC.