What might JapanimatIon’s eco-warrior Hayao Miyazaki have done with this save-the-planet fable from Dr. Seuss? Made it shorter and quieter and better, probably.
Instead, the Hollywood CG-machine behind Despicable Me take a simple, potent allegory which arrived ahead of its time and turn it into a wacky 3D kids’ movie that feels behind it.
Opening exuberantly with a kicky musical number, The Lorax introduces us to a happy, plastic city where fresh air is bottled, nature is inflatable and a boy (Zac Efron) quests into the barren landscape in search of a real tree.
But this is just a framing device for Seuss’ original ’70s story – his favourite, according to his widow – about a mysterious hermit called the Once-ler (Ed Helms) who lives alone in a wasteland he created by foolishly destroying the environment for a fast buck, much to the despair of tree-hugging spirit The Lorax (Danny DeVito). It’s a dark, powerful parable about ambition corrupting into greed, and it’s done very well.
But this central flashback core has been gaudily wrapped up in an awful lot of nonsense to pad out the running time. Zooming scooter chases, grandma on skis, a pint-size villain (Rob Riggle) with his two goons, and cutesy forest creatures that – as in Despicable Me – are probably the best thing about the movie.
Sure, it’s a beautifully designed world of blossoming candyfloss trees and popping colours. But it paints over the story’s ominous message of consumption versus conservation, turning it into a fizzy confection that’s manic and meaningless. Not a bad film, just not a good one.
That might sound harsh, but as The Lorax says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”
Fake plastic trees, fake plastic entertainment? The Lorax is immensely colourful, catchy and cheery. Then again, it’s also gaudy, bland and recycled. You can do better.