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Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Review

By Chris Boylan

Dr. Snooze

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Reviewing "The Lorax" has me conflicted. Like the book upon which the movie is based, the movie version of "The Lorax" tells an important cautionary tale about environmental and social responsibility. It's perhaps even more timely and relevant now than it was in the 1970s when Dr. Seuss penned the classic illustrated yarn. Corporate greed with no thought of environmental sustainability has its implications and they can be devastating. The movie stays true to this message, but its execution left me underwhelmed.

The book tells a simple tale about the Once-ler and his never-ending quest for riches. As did the snake oil salesmen of old, the Once-ler manufactures need where previously there was none. In this case it's the need for Thneed. A Thneed is a mysterious knit product of unimaginable softness and seemingly inexhaustible uses. Is it a shirt, a glove, a hat or a sock? A towel, a pillow, a sheet or a smock? It's all of the above and it can only be made from the fuzzy tops of the Truffula trees.

As demand increases, the Once-ler begins chopping down Truffula trees in earnest, while fouling the air, the water and the land with toxic byproducts. An enigmatic creature (the Lorax) comes to speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. The Lorax tried in vain to convince the Once-ler to stop the madness. But the Once-ler is blind to the consequences -- or uncaring -- and he charges along until the very last Truffula tree is destroyed, leaving his company without a product and the once beautiful countryside a barren wasteland, devoid of life.

The movie tells the same story, but from the perspective of the near future. A fully artificial town - Thneedville - has risen where the Thneed plant used to be. Here there is not a tree to be found, at least not one that grows from the ground. The residents here seem happy in their excess. They work to buy the latest cars and gadgets and scooters, even artificial trees. Air quality has gone downhill (the lack of real trees will do that) so they even buy their air from Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle), a ruthless but diminutive business man. A young man named Ted (Zac Efron) explores the land outside the perfect town in search of a real live tree. But his pursuit is not so noble (at least it does not start out that way). Ted sets off on this quest solely to impress the lovely Audrey (Taylor Swift).

Outside town he meets a mysterious hermit, none other than the Once-ler himself (Ed Helms). The Once-ler reveals his sad tale to the boy over multiple visits: his pursuit of fame and fortune, creation of the Thneed, his encounters with the Lorax (Danny DeVito) and the ultimate extinction of the Truffula trees which led to the disappearance of all the lovely inhabitants of forest and stream. Meanwhile, in the modern storyline Mr. O'Hare learns of Ted's trips outside town and does his best to prevent him from continuing these pursuits as he fears repercussions to his own booming business.

The two story lines are each compelling and quite complementary, but the dialog falls flat as do the grandiose musical numbers. I enjoy Ed Helms' characters in "The Office" and "The Hangover" but he just doesn't have the necessary range to pull off the cold, calculating, perhaps eventually remorseful Once-ler. He just seems too nice to have perpetrated such environmental havoc. Devito breathes life into his Lorax, delivering some of the few funny lines in the film, but even he seems restrained here. You're only as good as the lines you're given. And in this case, those lines just aren't as compelling or as exciting as they need to be. It's nice when they quote actual lines from the book, but the rest of the dialog and exposition is just, well... a little boring.

There are a few funny moments: the three singing/dancing fish with their chipmunk-like singing voices provide some welcome comic relief to the otherwise plodding tale. But as I looked down at my 6-year-old daughter's face in the middle of one of the musical numbers, that look of glee that normally accompanies her viewing of an animated film was noticeably absent. When asked later, she said she did enjoy the movie.  And it raised some important issues worth discussing later. And maybe that's more than we get from most animated fare. I just wish they managed to do that and make the film entertaining.

I should note that my screening of the film took place in an "IMAX 3D" theater. I use quotes because we were in the AMC Empire 25 Cinema in Times Square, which does not use the traditional IMAX film and projectors with their massive 50+ foot high screens. Instead they use DLP digital projectors to capture the "IMAX Experience." The screen is a bit larger than a standard movie theater, and the seats are closer, the incline greater and the theater smaller so you get a similar screen size effect as in true IMAX theaters. I noticed on several occasions severe cross-talk (doubled lines) as well as collapse of the 3D effect in a few scenes. This is likely a problem with the equipment and calibration more so than the film itself. In any case, I'd say you'd be as well off watching the 2D version as 3D, particularly considering the higher cost of 3D movies.

What did you think?

Movie title Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating G
Our rating
Summary Dr. Seuss' beloved morality tale finally comes to the big screen. Was it worth the wait?
View all articles by Chris Boylan
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