Dr. Seuss and his cast of strange and wonderful characters have been around since before I was born. The first book I ever read by myself was Green Eggs And Ham, and I can remember the experience quite vividly still. Each Christmas I run the 1960’s Boris Karloff version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It’s been a tradition at the Sassani household for decades. It started with television broadcast that led to videotaped copy which found its way to a laserdisc, followed by a DVD and now a beautiful Blu-ray from the folks at Warner. If these things don’t qualify me as a bonafide fan of the good Doctor, I’m not sure what else will.
Mankind has lost touch with the Earth’s environment and now lives in sterile cities where there is no longer any nature at all. Few can even remember what a tree looked like. The natural resources were completely consumed to make products so that now trees are inflatable fixtures in the neighborhood. In order to impress a girl who has fantasies about real trees, Ted (Efron) leaves the safety of the city to track down the Once-ler (Helms) who is rumored to know what happened to the trees. The Once-ler tells a cautionary tale of how he was responsible for the extinction of the trees in spite of the warnings of their protector, the Lorax (DeVito).
When I got my invitation for the advance screening of The Lorax I was quite pleased with myself and planned on having quite a good time. Unfortunately, this film is somewhat of a new low for Dr. Seuss and children’s films in general. The film is overly preachy, and much of the charm of the characters and material have been completely drained. There is little of the iconic Dr. Seuss rhymes and silly phrases. All of the wonderful whimsical spirit has been replaced with a film that doesn’t appear to find anything good to say about modern society. It’s true that these kinds of films can teach. Most good children’s films have some kind of a message, but this one beats you senseless over the head, sucking out any of the joy these films should also provide.
Of course, technically the animated feature is flawless. The images are bright and quite entertaining visually. The environments are state-of-the-art. In fact, the film was too high-tech for the likes of Dr. Seuss. I’m sure that I’m showing a generational bias here, but the material appears made for the simpler standard type of animation. If ever a film looked too good, The Lorax comes pretty close. The image is vibrant and literally alive with wonderful creatures and characters. There are some bright musical numbers that are catchy enough to work themselves into the average 8-year-old’s routine.
The voice talents of Danny DeVito and Ed Helms are actually pretty nice performances. I’m just not sure the dialog they were given lives up to their talent or to the source material. You also get solid performances from the likes of Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Betty White. All of the ingredients are there, and the environmental message is certainly true to the source material. But Dr. Seuss gave even his young audience enough credit to get the point without ever becoming heavy-handed, a lesson these filmmakers could have learned if they had just followed the Doctor’s orders. The kids will still love it, but I’d suggest you wait for a home video version to save yourself some torture. And when it comes to the constant multiple viewings the young kids often demand? “Nothing is going to get better… It’s not.”