The Lorax, the new adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic story, completely misses the point. The book espoused importance of conservation, the evils of excess, and the need to preserve our natural resources and some of those elements are still there. Unfortunately, it ends up being so lost in romantic subplots that distort the main character’s motivation, oddly-placed musical numbers that feel more like filler than entertainment, and strange anti-capitalistic messages that Seuss’ valuable message is overshadowed and the original intent is totally lost.
The story follows a young boy named Ted (Zac Efron) who lives with his family in an artificial utopia where nothing natural exists anymore – including fresh air. When he learns that the girl he has a crush on, Audrey (Taylor Swift), desperately wants to see a real-life tree, he takes a dangerous and forbidden trip outside of the city walls to talk with The Once-ler (Ed Helms), a mysterious figure who is the only one who knows what happened to the environment. Upon his arrival, Ted is told the story of The Once-ler’s invention of the Thneed, an object that can be used to do anything, and his battle with The Lorax, a small orange creature who speaks for the trees.
Ted’s motivation is the key problem with The Lorax. While in the book there is an unnamed narrator who is curious about why The Lorax was “lifted away,” the new motivation for Ted to grow trees – a schoolboy crush – makes the character, who was initially meant to represent the reader, become a total phony. As established in an opening music number, the people living within the artificial city known as Thneed-ville are perfectly happy without nature in their lives and Ted is no different. The only thing that drives him to try and grow a tree is the hope that he might get a kiss from a girl he likes. Is that really the environmental message that we want to be sent – that plants and animals are completely pointless unless you want to impress somebody?
The greatest force opposing Ted in the movie is a short-statured villain named Mr. O’Hare, who is voiced by Rob Riggle, but what makes the situation so strange is that O’Hare doesn’t really do anything evil…unless you count being successful as evil. Seeing an opportunity in the arena of supply and demand, O’Hare sells the people of Thneed-ville fresh air much in the same way that companies sell bottled water today. While the character is against the idea of growing trees because it would hurt his business, the film actually hard-targets him from the beginning just for taking advantage of a capitalist system. While I can appreciate the film’s attempt at a progressive message and its 99%er mentality, the way that the character is written just doesn’t translate and feels more like a hollow attack than a legitimate argument.
What ultimately proves that The Lorax should never have been made into a feature film is the insane amount of padding that screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul had to add to Dr. Seuss’ story. The story about The Lorax is repeatedly broken up by The Once-ler telling Ted to come back tomorrow for the rest of the story, but there isn’t a single time where it doesn’t feel ancillary or forced. Cutaways and fantasy sequences do nothing to add to the story or even the humor and the audience is just left waiting for them to get back to the title character. The same can be said for the aforementioned musical numbers, which simply serve as fluff and are lacking in any real entertainment value. Fortunately the sequences with the furry, orange, tree-lover are humorous, but there just isn’t enough of it simply because Dr. Seuss’ book wasn’t that long to begin with.
At the very least The Lorax has some beautiful looking animation that perfectly matches the signature aesthetic of Dr. Seuss’ work (the Truffula trees in particular have an amazing texture) and there is the occasional humorous sequence, but by the end it’s not nearly enough. Despite the fact that the movie goes about sending the message in the worst way possible, my only hope is that the youngest members of the audience will at least be able to take away a “Trees are good” message and grow up knowing that it is their responsibility to keep the Earth and the environment healthy. As for everyone else, prepare for a movie that is preachy but doesn’t really understand what it’s preachy about.