There’s little denying that the subject matter of Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda’s 3D animation Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (2012) – adapted from Dr. Seuss’ ecologically-minded 1972 children’s book – is extremely topical in today’s environmentally-sensitive climate. Sadly, this big screen outing takes the seeds of Seuss’ book and expands too far upon the original text, drowning it in a series of lurid colours that lacks charm and a strong identity of its own.
The Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) is a reclusive figure who tells his tale of woe to young teen Ted (Zac Efron) at the beginning of the film. In the Seuss text, Ted wonders why his home town has become devoid of trees, but in this recent rendition is questing after the love of a girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift). Enter the titular Lorax (Danny DeVito), a magical yellow fluff ball who speaks for the trees, yet is disappointingly reduced to a mere secondary character in this cinematic retelling.
At its heart, this is the story of the Once-ler, a greedy individual who decides to cut down all of the ‘Truffula trees’ for profit. The Lorax appears before him, warning of the price the Once-ler will pay if he continues to act out of greed, but to no avail. Cut back to the present day and the actions of The Once-ler have been superseded by the even greedier O’Hare (Rob Riggle), a man who literally bottles air and sells it back to the populous of the heavily polluted and artificial Thneedsville. The heroic Ted thus begins his quest to return trees to the world – and simultaneously win the heart of Audrey.
The themes of Seuss’ book could never be described as subtle. However, this latest adaptation has washed away all remnants of charm and magic from the story, replacing it with a series of sickly-sweet backdrops – a violent 3D bombardment of the senses. The ecological themes are also heavy-handed at best and fail to treat children as intelligent individuals. Unlike Seuss, The Lorax lacks any genuine playfulness, opting instead for the cheap thrills of car chases and witless songs.
The heart of The Lorax is certainly in the right place, as it validly attempts to question the impact of pollution and ‘big business’ on the environment. Sadly, its execution lacks a great deal of finesse and too often opts for methods that cheapen the overall didactic in favour of Hollywood thrills and spills.