Who’s orange, fuzzy and spews out Dr. Seuss rhymes in a grimy Jersey growl?
For those who have watched a single second of television this week, this should conjure the image of the new animated feature “The Lorax,” with Danny DeVito providing the voice of the little orange protector of the forest. At first glance it seems to be a hippy-dippy environmental protection advertisement, but with a closer look, it’s easy to realize there’s much fun to be had in this animated feature.
The story is centered on Ted (Zac Efron), a romantic, curious young man who lives in a tree-less and completely man-made city – Thneedville. His home wasn’t always this artificial though; he’s told by his grandmother (Betty White) that nature once grew in his hometown unhinged, but that they were forced to construct a synthetic city, for reasons only the hermetic Once-ler (Ed Helms) knows. Ted is more concerned, however, with the older Audrey (Taylor Swift), an awkward yet imaginative teenager who longs to see a real tree. Ted takes it upon himself to win her over by finding one of such a fabled artifact.
“The Lorax” is based on Dr. Seuss’ 1971 book, which stood as a critique of the never-ending expansion of resource-chewing industries, as well as the general apathy surrounding the environmental costs. We eventually learn, as in the original story, that outside of the walled-in Thneedville there exists only a vast wasteland, used and abused by industry’s relentless greed. This is where the film poses what might be important and informative critiques to a viewer under the age of 12. For the rest of us, it comes off a bit overstated.
What is disappointing about the narrative is its departure from the original material, which features a noticeable reshuffling of character focus. The plot also includes all-too frequent slapstick humor and pop-culture references – a ploy aimed at the lucrative tween demographic. So “Lorax” die-hards beware, this movie is missing that off-beat Dr. Seuss humor and wit, and has replaced it with physical gags and less clever dialogic quirks. Be prepared for the Betty White-voiced grandmother to display her penchant for extreme sports and brace yourself for an auto-tuned song and dance number from the Once-ler. It’s cheap, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make you smile once or twice.
Aside from these questionable narrative modifications, the film successfully captures the look of its source material, displaying vibrant colors and unique character animation, giving off a totally appropriate mix of silliness and whimsy. It makes sense considering rising director Chris Renaud (famed for directing “Despicable Me”) was at the helm for this project.
Efron and Swift’s vocal talents were obviously sought to reel in the film’s target audience, but their performances are generally unmemorable as they lack quality comedic timing or any original twang in most of their lines. Helms’ voicing of the Once-ler is particularly forgettable as well, as he lacks energy in humorous scenes, but for whatever vigor Helms is lacking in dialogue, he makes up for in his song and dance number, “How Bad Can I Be?”
The characters are generally eccentric and earn mild laughs, but Danny DeVito’s talents as the voice of the title character stand out from the rest. DeVito is the driving comedic force. He brings real weight to his character; his voice, it seems, was meant to inhabit the Lorax. The others, well, they’re just not that interesting.
“The Lorax” is at times funny and dynamic, but loses its uniquely Seussian feel in its constant preaching and crass jokes. It’s got laughs for kids and an honest message, but Mom and Dad might have some trouble sitting through this one.
Adam Abdelmaksoud can be reached at [email protected]