‘The Lorax’: Orange is the new green

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Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

“Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” 3(D) out of 4 stars

95 minutes

Starring the voices of: Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift and Ed Helms.

Now playing at the West Theatre and at Steamboat Springs’ Metropolitan Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

After Mike Myers tarnished one of the greatest classics of children’s literature in “The Cat in the Hat,” it seemed like there was no coming back for its author’s many creations. Now, showing us that the animated “Horton Hears a Who!” was no fluke, comes “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.”

In the city of Thneedville, residents want for nothing with every modern convenience right at hand. While most citizens are completely happy with their lifestyle of instant gratification, there are two have yet to get what they want.

In the case of 12-year-old Ted Wiggins (voice of Zac Efron), what he wants is a girl. Specifically his dream girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift), whose desires are a little more difficult to fulfill — rather than the inflatable shrubs and remote-controlled foliage already adorning most neighborhood lawns, Audrey wants a genuine tree of her very own.

You know, one that grows from the ground.

Such a thing can’t be found in Thneedville, so Ted sneaks out of town to consult the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a hermit living in the wasteland outside city limits. The old recluse regales Ted with a story of when he was a young man and Truffula Trees were in great supply, as were denizens of the forest big and small.

The Once-ler’s intention to use the tufts of the trees for a household creation dubbed the thneed summoned the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a creature “as old as time itself,” whose continual warnings about chopping down trees fell upon deaf ears.

But, even in this barren land, it may not be too late for someone like Ted to make a difference.

If you need someone to fill the part of short, loud and hairy, you can’t have better casting than DeVito, who’s just right as the Lorax, a furry, orange, knee-high curmudgeon with a walrus mustache rivaling that of Mark Twain. Often possessing the qualities of a bullhorn, the being who speaks for the trees serves as the conscience for the humans here, who obviously need one.

Idealists like Ted and Audrey — named for Dr. Seuss and his widow, finely voiced by Efron and Swift — haven’t the chance to corrupt the natural order, only to correct it, but the same can’t be said of the small-time businessman turned monster industrialist.

“The Office” star Helms provides a convincing wheeze as the now-repentant Once-ler, who’s lived with the error of his ways for years, but it’s hearing him in his early days that’s so telling. The character whose face we’ve never seen does not start off as a thoughtless figurehead of defiling the land, rather a good-hearted inventor of a handy all-purpose item who bit by bit destroys the very thing providing his livelihood, only realizing what he’s done when it’s too late.

It’s a whole different story for newly created antagonist Aloysius O’Hare (Rob Riggle), who sees the destruction of the environment as a powerfully profitable opportunity. As the unofficial ruler of Thneedville, the beady-eyed little despot with greasy hair has a monopoly on the production of clean air, bottled and canned for your convenience.

If you’re looking only at the bottom line, you can’t really beat a business model that says the more you pollute, the more you create an imbalance in supply and demand, hence raking in more big bucks. Is there any better example of not being able to see the forest for the trees?

Ted’s troubles with O’Hare provide a third act not seen in the original work by Dr. Seuss, as he tries to give nature a jumpstart with the last Truffula seed on the planet. Coupled with the fact that the people of plastic paradise Thneedville are walled off and ignorant of the outside world, you may cry foul that the makers ripped this off from the ecologically themed “WALL•E,” but remember: the good doctor wrote this more than 40 years ago.

The moral that trees are good and industrialization is bad has been pounded into our heads by movies and TV for quite a while, but this is one of the better-developed tales of green vs. machine. You can send a message without having to be blatantly obvious about it, an approach Seuss practiced in his books.

Though this comes dangerously close to being “a lesson” for the world, it pulls it back when it’s needed and allows the audience to come to its own conclusions.

It’s easy to hate someone like O’Hare, but a person like the Once-ler is closer to the average person than we’d like to admit. It doesn’t take long to pervert the world around you, and a habit becomes routine quick. If it were nothing more than tree-hugging propaganda, it would show the ruin of the forest as an overnight process, but this story shows the nuances of the Once-ler’s rise to prominence as one that starts with compromises and ends with the delusion that he’s in the right.

Even the Lorax is willing to admit there could be a deal struck between the two of them, the look on his face when he sees the first shattered stump begs the question “At what price?”

The group at Illumination Entertainment gets the tone and Seussian design right, but what holds this good feature back from being great is some really forgettable and downright needless music.

Helms is a skilled singer, but we don’t need that many ditties from the Once-ler when his rationalizing “How Bad Can I Be?” does the trick. You’d think having a vocalist like Swift would beg for a song of her own, but she’s barely included in the soundtrack at all, though Ester Dean’s solo version of the tune “Let It Grow (Celebrate the World)” is a winner.

You may be getting your fill of preachy environmental entertainment, but “The Lorax” still demands attention compared to lesser films about the dangers of consumption. Not everybody needs a thneed, but everybody needs to see a movie like this.

Now playing at the West Theatre and at Steamboat Springs’ Metropolitan Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

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