Illumination Entertainment’s animation work is lovely, says Fernando Caire. It’s just a shame that The Lorax’s relentless environmental message and obsession with musical numbers won’t let you focus on it.
As a kid, I saw more cartoons with an overly strong environmentalist message than I care to admit. Most of the time, I was tricked into watching them with the promise of cool visuals and a top-notch actor voicing the lead. Luckily, those days are long behind us… or so I thought.
Following the success of Horton Hears a Who! a few years back, Universal Pictures decided to take a stab at another one of Dr. Seuss’ popular books. Understanding that The Lorax had a message about preserving the environment, I expected the movie version to be much the same, with the same subtly educational tone as the source material. That was my first mistake.
Our story begins with Ted Wiggins (Zac Efron) wanting to find a real tree to win the affection of a girl named Audrey (Taylor Swift). The problem is that he lives in the secluded city of Thneed-Ville where everything is made of synthetic materials and there are no trees. He learns from his eccentric grandmother (Betty White) that if he visits the Once-ler who lives outside of town, he may learn how to get one.
Entering the desolate wasteland outside the city, he finds the Once-ler, who begins to tell him what happened to all the trees. This sets up a sub-plot of Ted being a threat to the evil O’Hare (Rob Riggle) who became rich by selling fresh bottled air to the residents. If trees were to sprout once more, he would be out of business.
When the Once-ler was an ambitious young inventor, he discovered a paradise of beautiful trees. He began chopping them down to use for his invention, the ‘Thneed’. Out of the stump of the first tree he cut down came the Lorax (Danny DeVito) who several times tried to get rid of the uninvited guest. Eventually, they came to a mutual understanding that as long as the Once-ler stayed, he would promise not to cut down any more trees.
But when the Thneed became a hit, the Once-ler began cutting down the trees to keep up with demand. Soon, not a single one was left standing and with his resources exhausted, he lost everything. It is up to Ted to make the residents of Thneed-Ville care about the trees again while O’Hare does everything in his power to stop him.
What’s wrong with the plot
I don’t even know where to begin. The environmentalist message in this film was hammered into my skull with an intensity that made FernGully: The Last Rainforest look subtle. The movie’s producers seem to have felt that the book’s main failing was that it didn’t make people feel guilty enough. Everything, from the evil corporate agenda to the bit about the ridiculousness of bottled air (an obvious jab at bottled water) and the replacement of nature with plastic, is turned up to 11. The worst part is that the message is delivered through song. Lots and lots of really bad songs. When the film was over, I couldn’t remember how a single one of them went.
The animation and acting
I have to give credit where it is due: Illumination Entertainment did a fantastic job animating this film. The lush, colorful world looks exactly like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, and seeing the smallest details of fur, grass and the tiniest textures in HD is a real treat for the eyes.
The voice actors do good jobs, although Danny De Vito was the only one who really got into his character. There are also some really funny scenes, but these are few and far between. Each one gave me hope that the film was getting better… but then a musical number would come along to remind me that my faith was misplaced.
The extra features in the Blu-ray release are plentiful, yet lacking. There are three mini movies (which, thankfully, don’t have musical numbers) that revolve around the animals who live in the forest and provide some good laughs. What I don’t understand is why the Blu-ray includes a making-of feature for these shorts, but not for the movie itself. Directors’ commentary, silly games for the kids, a drawing tutorial and one deleted scene are all included. There’s a lot here, but the things that really count – at least to artists – have been left out.
The overall verdict
I understand that The Lorax was made more for kids than adults and that the film-makers had to stretch a 45-page book into an 86-minute movie, but its message is just too blunt. The poor pacing makes it difficult to stay interested, and the romance feels like lazy writing. What makes it worse is that nothing happens with it, making its presence completely pointless besides giving Ted a reason to leave the city.
I’ve seen many animated films that push an environmentalist message at their viewers, but nothing quite as forceful – or as dull. Though the visuals are amazing, they don’t justify one viewing, let alone a second. Even if you have kids, I wouldn’t recommend The Lorax.
The Lorax is out now in the US from Universal Studios on Blu-ray and DVD. If you live in Europe, you’ll have to wait until the end of the year to watch it at home.