Film Review: Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

When he learns the story of the Lorax, a youth vows to bring nature back to his town in this message-heavy adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book.

With its simplistic CGI, Day-Glo color palette and pounding score, Dr. Seuss' The Lorax comes across as a sort of CliffsNotes version of the Theodor Geisel children's book, perhaps a Dr. Seuss for Dummies. Parents may be attracted to the plot's environmental message, and kids to the general hubbub, but few will come out feeling satisfied.

A later effort from Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, the Lorax book offered a moralistic story about how rampant consumerism destroys the ecology. The film adds a romantic subplot and expands on Geisel's settings, but otherwise follows the original book closely enough, down to its menagerie of Humming-fish and Bar-ba-loots. Geisel's designs lend themselves to 3D, although depth effects here are minimal and the animation in general lacks charm.

All forms of nature have been removed from the town of Thneedville, overseen by the tyrannical O'Hare (voiced by Rob Riggle). But the lovely Audrey (Taylor Swift) remembers Truffula trees, and paints a mural of them on the back of her house. In order to impress her, and perhaps win a kiss, Ted (Zac Efron) vows to bring her back a Truffula seed.

To do so, he must venture outside the walls of Thneedville to a barren, gray landscape. Ted finds a mysterious house near Truffula Valley and persuades the Once-ler (Ed Helms) who lives within to tell him what happened to the trees there.

The valley was a paradise when the Once-ler first arrived, but he began to chop down the Truffula trees in order to manufacture "thneed" garments. Although he promises the Lorax (Danny DeVito) to preserve the valley, the Once-ler takes every tree. Coughing and covered with oil, the animals depart. Filled with remorse, the Once-ler now offers Ted the last surviving Truffula seed.

Meanwhile, O'Hare and his minions become suspicious of Ted's journeys. O'Hare, who has made a fortune selling bottled air, risks losing his empire if Ted can reintroduce nature to Thneedville. Ted has to turn to his mother (Jenny Slate) and grandmother Norma (Betty White) for help in outwitting O'Hare.

The Lorax
has the same basic creative crew as 2010's Despicable Me, minus that film's focused plotting and A-list voice cast. Although a cliffhanger chase is grafted onto the storyline, The Lorax often feels like it's moving backwards rather than making progress. What's worse, the cast features not one but three grouchy old men, all barking out ineffectual threats before stepping aside.

Bland, instantly forgettable songs by John Powell and co-screenwriter and executive producer Cinco Paul punctuate the film, staged by director Chris Renaud as if they were rock anthems. Amazingly, Taylor Swift, pleasant but underused as Audrey, doesn't get to sing.

The message behind The Lorax stirred some controversy when the book was published in 1971, and again in a 1972 television adaptation. With some 70 product tie-ins, this version of The Lorax could spark its own controversies. Like why Ted needs a motorized scooter to get around, or how the producers reconcile a pro-environment message with advertising Mazda SUVs.