Dr. Suess movies have ranged from pretty good (“Horton Hears a Who”), to passable (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”), to God awful (“Cat in the Hat”). The newest animated edition to that realm is “The Lorax,” and it without a doubt falls into its own fourth category—passable—but barely.
The story is about a young boy, Ted (Zac Efron), who out of desire to impress a young girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift), goes out to find a tree, which has become extinct in his town of Thneedville. His wise-cracking granny (Betty White) tells him of The Once-Ler (Ed Helms), the only man around who knows of trees.
Ted goes there and is treated to a tale of how The Once-Ler single-handedly destroys all the trees and betrays the small orange tree guardian, The Lorax (Danny Devito). Now, my biggest problem with the film rests on the shoulders of the filmmakers, who have shown how seriously they do not take the material. Any chance to give this movie more than its one dimensionality is buried underneath either cuteness or unnecessary plot devices.
For instance, at the very beginning, The Lorax introduces the setting of the town that is artificial from head-to-toe. Even air has to be supplied artificially because of lack of trees. But then, a musical number breaks out that pretty much describes everything The Lorax just said about the town.
Afterward we are injected into the middle of the lives of the characters without the slightest background knowledge. A chance wasted by a shoddy musical with little to no point other than to engage the small children.
The movie really succeeds only when it takes place in the forest, which is richly detailed and filled with cute, cuddly and funny creatures. This is where the movie gets all its humor, and, luckily, there’s enough to make it worthwhile.
But that being said, everything else, including the human characters, is entirely surface level and never taken to the depth it could’ve been taken.
Even the scene where the Once-Ler makes the transformation from nature lover to greedy industrialist is done in a hammy musical number and completely eliminates all emotion or weight it could’ve had.
Yes, the movie is cute and will definitely appeal to children, which is where the passable bit comes in. But everything else that could’ve set it apart from basic animated fare is ignored. Even the pro-environmentalist aspect is passed by in the most surface-dwelling way.
“The Lorax” could’ve been a great animated film with heart and depth, but the filmmakers clearly favored style over substance.