Are we ready for yet another environmental lesson, boys and girls? As if the world of 3D animation had not fed enough morals to our little ones to drum the message home in a fun and colourful way, Illumination Entertainment brings out another based on the genius of Dr. Seuss. Only this one comes with lots of polished, computer-generated, blustering buoyancy, minus all the illustrative charm and heart of the books, so fans will look hard to find traces of their hero.
12-year-old Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) lives in plastic, fantastic Thneedville, a wall-in universe with nothing of nature growing in it. He is smitten with Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift), who wishes she could have a real tree in her back yard, rather than the balloon-shaped ones. To win her affections, Ted goes on the hunt for her, outside city limits, learning the story of the greedy capitalist The Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) and the grumpy creature the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) who tried with all his creature friends to protect the tree-laden world from impending destruction.
As charming and amusing as this kooky, light-hearted tale attempts to be, there is nothing of lasting substance about it, which kind of defeats its environmental purpose. It’s as consumable and throwaway as its commercial message, simultaneously criticised by the Lorax who recognises the danger of capitalism gone mad. The wise old thing with his distinguishable bushy moustache, faithfully brought to life by DeVito, certainly entertains, along with an army of loyal creatures, but his significance gets sidelined by the noisy, overenthusiastic and manic production values, where ultimately, the only thing you remember is a few tempting candyfloss Truffala trees swaying in the breeze, Ted’s tween crush and gravity-defying biking skills, and a witty, sardonic dig at our bottled water obsession.
Big-screen adaptations of Dr. Seuss books have never had a wonderful track record (remember The Cat in the Hat and How The Grinch Stole Christmas), and The Lorax looks to be joining that list. Part of reason is the storytellers just don’t let the Lorax and his message take centre stage, revealing the true quirkiness and passion of a Dr. Seuss tale. They feel the audience needs padding in the form of a lovesick brat who makes the whole thing about his hormonal needs, done in the predictably bland animated way of Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me. Loyal fans of the 1972 book may see this animated adaptation as an over-inflated burst of vibrant commercial indulgence lacking any individual character like WALL-E that tackled the same global concerns, which is a shame as it’s charmingly told.