Based on the iconic book by Dr. Seuss, “The Lorax” extends the story of environmental stewardship to 86 minutes.
While Dr. Seuss’ original does not name the boy, nor the town he lives in, this movie spends much of its time concentrating on these.
Thneedville is a walled-in city where grass and shrubs are plastic, and trees are made of light bulbs that change color at the push of a button. The city’s richest man, Mr. O’Hare, made his fortune by selling clean air in bottles to the population. He jealously guards his source of income by watching the population for any hint that they might discover a free source of air.
Ted, (voiced by Zac Effron) learns of the existence of trees from his crush Audrey (Taylor Swift). When she tells him she would do anything to see a living tree. Hoping to win her affections, Ted asks his mother and grandmother where he can find a real tree. His grandma tells him a story about the Once-ler who will tell the story of what happened to the trees.
Following his grandmother’s instructions, Ted finds a way through the wall and out of town. It is here that the story starts to be similar to Seuss’ book. The Once-ler (Ed Helms) agrees to tell the story of the Lorax to Ted. After introducing the characters, the Once-ler sends Ted home and tells him to return the next day to hear the rest of the story.
Before he can leave town the next day, Ted is stopped by Mr. O’Hare and his guards. O’Hare warns Ted not to leave town again, and reveals some of his surveillance systems, hinting that he knows everything that happens in Thneedville. Of course Ted disobeys. Finding his original path through the wall has been blocked, Ted jumps the wall and escapes to hear the rest of the Once-ler’s story.
Having earned the Once-ler’s trust, Ted is given the last seed and told to plant it. There the book ends, but the film goes on to elaborate on the return of trees, and ultimately the animals that the Lorax sent away.
I loved Dr. Seuss’ book as a child. It was published a few months after I was born, and I have no memory of the world without it. “The Lorax” movie has some charm, and the message is the same, but it doesn’t live up to Seuss’ work. Given that much of the joy of Seuss’ books is the nonsensical language and rhyming, the songs that could have been a sensible way to include that style are dull and nothing like Seuss.
Visually, it is obvious which parts of the scenery are original to the book and which are add-ins. So much so that I wonder if the artist decided to try and avoid looking anything like Dr. Seuss’ drawings. Instead of having the characteristic look of Seuss’ creatures, the bears all look like furry, brown Ed Asner impersonators.
Of course, my kids love the movie. I’m sure they will have fond memories of it and that’s fine, but for me, “The Lorax” was better than average at best. At worst, it is a lesson in how difficult it is to expand on, and live up to the expectations of, an iconic work, even if that work is a little children’s book.