With their bonkers characters, vibrant colours and wry jokes the books of Dr Seuss seem like the perfect fodder for animation and with live action turkeys like The Cat in the Hat standing next to CG gems like Horton Hears a Who! The counter-arguments are very quiet indeed. Dr Suess reportedly singled out The Lorax as his personal favourite and the adaptation from Illumination Entertainment, which I saw as part of a double bill with Ice Age 4,has been making megabucks stateside. In spite of this the film has met with some fairly negative feedback so I went into this one intrigued but not quite knowing what to expect.
Ted (Zac Efron making a creditable voice actor) lives in Thneedville, a plastic city so polluted that a local bureaucrat bottles fresh air to sell to the masses. He spends his days riding his motorized unicycle and engineering meetings with the pretty Audrey (Taylor Swift). When Audrey announces that she would marry on the spot anyone who could give her a real, growing tree he sets off in search of a mysterious character called the Once-ler, a loner who lives in the wasteland beyond the outskirts of town to find out what happened to all the trees. The old man begins to relate his story as a young entrepreneur searching for the perfect material with which to create his new invention, a multi-purpose garment called a Thneed.
The plot is a double-hander with both stories receiving roughly equal screen time. On the one side Ted makes multiple trips to the Once-ler, dodging Mr O’Hare, who is getting rich off bottled air and doesn’t want trees to return to town and start giving it out for free. Thneedville is a brilliantly Seussian setting, its plastic aesthetic fitting the CG animation style perfectly and its inhabitants and their eccentric homes and vehicles entertain throughout. Secondly the Once-ler’s story presents a no less impressive rural landscape populated by miniature bears, orange birds and crooning fish, and of course the all important Lorax (Danny De Vito), the orange, mustached guardian of nature who speaks for the trees. It’s a dazzling film throughout, a vivacious showcase of pleasing primary colours and the animators have created two pleasingly quirky and eccentric worlds.
And the good news is the plus points don’t stop there. It’s hard to find a weak link in the voice cast, the gentle but silly humour is confidently dispatched and the script finds a good balance between pacing, plot and gags, with a clear zing that often eludes other films of this ilk. The title character doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time but De Vito gives him all the tenacity you’d expect. The film has all the ingredients it needs to succeed and it never drops below a steady level of entertainment.
But for everything it gets right it falls short of Horton, lacking some of the earlier film’s unbridled anarchic fun in favour of an eco message it somewhat fumbles. The eco-fable is not an original concept and The Lorax does absolutely nothing new with it and the film cannot help but allow its message to overwhelm its pivotal scenes. The emotional factor ties in with the drama and works well enough but it’s hard to watch the film without feeling distracted by the agenda which lacks subtlety and gets particularly overwrought in the final singsong. Princess Mononoke this ain’t.
But it’s hard not to like The Lorax which repaired the mediocrity of Ice Age 4. It’s a great film for animation fans and kids to immerse themselves in its pretty colours and silly worlds.
A gentle mix of bold, clean visuals, bananas humour and environmentally conscious storytelling, the good doctor’s latest big screen outing is largely a success held back a little by its rather redundant moral.