This Dr Seuss adaptation is colourful, exuberant and, in its way, charming, but it lacks the real essence of its source material and is too derivative of the animated medium to be a true standout.
Danny DeVito plays the titular guardian of the land in flashback sequences, angered at the Once-ler’s (Ed Helms) exploitation of the trees in his forest, but he’s actually on screen for a frustratingly short time. His voice works, and the visual design of the Lorax is strong, but we spend more time with the boring denizens of the forest itself than with its wise-cracking protector. In a framing narrative Zac Efron, voicing a 12-year-old (he’s 24) stars as Ted, a boy who wants to find a real tree in an entirely plastic city, but it feels like he may have been cast to get a bigger name on the poster. The same is true of Taylor Swift, who plays his love interest Audrey, and only really shows up at the beginning and end.
The film’s problem is in establishing a consistent tone and pace. A vast chunk of the mid-section is told in flashback with only one human character, and the cuddly critters who populate this part of the film, including some very unfunny singing fish, are bland company. The title character is given too little screen time and not enough to do, while most of the supporting characters are uninspired. It aims for laughs frequently with comedy animals and slapstick, but it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that all of this has been done better by rival studios.
In adapting the story, Illumination Entertainment has dispensed with almost all of Dr Seuss’ endearing dialogue, which is a shame, because the film could do with more of a personality of its own. There’s even a point where Ted and Audrey take a comic dig at a rare use of some of Dr Seuss’ language. This is benign, of course, and designed to be funny, but it inadvertently exemplifies what the film is missing. Think how much Anthony Hopkins’ narration added to 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, for example.
Thankfully, the final third of the film is more rewarding than you might expect. All of a sudden the message comes across more strongly, and we finally get a musical number worth listening to. If you’re looking for an animated picture with an environmental message, watch Wall-E, but if you’re after something different and are interested in Dr Seuss adaptations, this may have something for you.