By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Think of this 3D-CG family film as a lighter, simpler version of Wall-E … which is both a good and bad thing. The upside: Having flopped with Hop, most of that production team (also responsible for Despicable Me, and Horton Hears a Hoo!) is back on track. With a marvelous juxtaposition of palettes, a socially-aware story that manages to skirt the preachy, and some fun characters, this Dr. Seuss adaptation offers up a soundly entertaining 86 minutes. The downside: Wall-E has nothing to worry about.
Screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio bookend the original story with a tacked-on tale about a 12-year boy named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), trying to impress his pretty redheaded neighbor Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift). They live in the plasticized city of Thneedville, where the landscaping is man-made, and fresh air is sold by town tycoon O’Hare (voiced by Rob Riggle). Audrey, who paints trees solely from her imagination, dreams of the day that she’ll actually be able to see one. When she confesses her desire to Ted, he seizes the opportunity to win the girl by running off to find some greener pastures.
Once he succeeds in escaping his styro-city, he finds that the world is cheerless, dark and foreboding. Following the advice from his all-knowing Grammy Norma (voiced by Betty White), he locates the hostile Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms), hermitted in a remote shack in the middle of a grim nowhere. Which brings us to the original Seuss tale, as the Once-ler gradually relates the details of his self-serving greed that ultimately caused the destruction of the beautiful world he once knew.
In an early reaction to what he gleaned as a growing over-consumption, Seuss wrote this cautionary story in 1970. Published the following year, it’s stunning that his strong advocacy preceded the environmental movement by decades. This latest version of The Lorax, nodding to its sober underpinnings, allows an eye-filling adventure as the animators convey multiple landscapes — the pristine, Disney-ized Thneedville; a murky, industrial wasteland; and a carnival-colored panoply of light and beauty, replete with silk-tufted Truffula trees undulating in the wind. The creatures are particularly delightful: A trio of Humming-Fish that sing close harmony at the slightest provocation (acting as a Seuss-ical Greek chorus who provide their own, um, scales) plus cuddly Bar-ba-loot bears and wacky Swomee-Swans. We can love the humor of these characters as unabashedly as if we, too, were rapt children enchanted by the magical Dr. Seuss.
But other than some amusing gruff ‘tude provided by Danny DeVito’s Lorax, and Riggle’s oleaginous O’Hare (who, with his exceptionally short stature, could easily be mistaken for a secondary character rendered by DeVito), the leads aren’t all that interesting. Helms’ Once-ler is a flawed man-child who’s hard to like, even though the writers attempt an empathetic turn near the end. And animation aside, the teenage Ted and Audrey come off as, well, colorless.
Though the staging of the songs is a visual treat, the tunes themselves are fairly feeble. For Universal to become a bona fide player in the Disney/Pixar animation nation, the music and lyrics are going to have to step up. It seems that by now, most animators have shared the digital methodology required to work with such tricky challenges as rippling water, wind blowing through fur, and varied light sources that mimic real illumination. But illustrators, no matter how talented, can only carry a portion of the load. Given the heavily competitive animated market, substandard songs and middling dialogue just don’t cut it.
For a younger audience, The Lorax offers smart life lessons about selflessness and the environment. For the grown-up kids, while the color palettes are alluring, sadly, there’s nothing all that notable about the film that will endure.
Rating on a scale of 5 environmentally green eggs and ham: 2.5
Release date: March 2, 2012
Directed by: Chris Renaud
Screenplay by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio
Based on the book by: Dr. Seuss
Voice Cast: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate, Betty White
Running Time: 86 minutes