Ted (Efron) lives in a town entirely made of plastic, but the girl he adores longs to see one of the trees that once covered the land. In his quest to find her a tree Ted learns the story of The Lorax (DeVito), guardian of the trees, and how man destroyed his own paradise.
The Lorax has unevenly weighted hands. In one hand it has a cute story of a boy trying to impress a girl by giving her the one simple thing she desires above all else. In the other it has a self-important environmental message about being nice to trees, not being seduced by mass consumerism and fearing the wrath of a magical hamster thing with Wilford Brimley’s facial hair. The former hand gives the viewer the occasional gentle tickle of amusement, while the latter beats you about the head and neck with the blunt force of its own strident environmentalist morality. This beating is a little hard to take from a film distributed in a 3D format that requires disposable plastic glasses.
Dr. Seuss’ 1971 story has had a bit of an expansion for this movie. At its core it is still about a boy (Zac Efron) who visits a strange being called the Once-ler (Ed Helms) to discover why the land is bare and sad, and is told about the time the Once-ler chopped down all the trees for his own financial gain and incurred the fury of tiny tree spokesperson The Lorax (DeVito). Because that story fills about 20 minutes, we now also have a love interest, a big-business villain who has obliterated anything natural to make a whole town so artificial that he can sell the residents fresh air, and Betty White as a snowboarding granny. We also get some songs, which you forget even as they’re happening. Visually, this is all gorgeous, sherbert-coloured and swirly, with Seuss’ scratchy lines softened but not lost. As a story, however, it’s disjointed, too heavy on message and too light on humour.
Curiously, it’s the parts that are faithful to Seuss that are least entertaining. The Once-ler, who was never fully revealed in the book, is depicted in an enjoyably sinister way that should spook kids without terrifying them, but the scenes in which The Lorax tries to teach him the error of his ways are rather dry, no matter how many clumsy woodland critters are piled in. The Lorax is a terribly preachy little creature; the trees would have done better to choose a spokesperson who wasn’t quite such a pill. The invented story, however, is freer and has more time for jokes for the sake of jokes. It’s a shame, then, that it’s given far less time, even to the point that the love story gets no firm resolution. The filmmakers’ focus seems to be, wrongly, on delivering the message. Who wants a sermon with a side of sight gags?
Lovely to look at and with some fun material not of Seuss invention, but its too hectoring, like reading an environmental textbook with jolly pictures.