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Positive Outweighs Negative in The Lorax

  • Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2012 3 Mar
  • COMMENTS
Positive Outweighs Negative in <i>The Lorax</i>

DVD Release Date: August 7, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: March 2, 2012 (3D/2D theaters and IMAX 3D)
Rating: PG (for brief mild language)
Genre: Animated
Run Time: 94 min.
Director: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
Cast: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White, Rob Riggle

There’s a lot to praise—and even love—in the latest animated adaptation of Theodor Geisel’s work. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a beautiful and entirely captivating visual feast, with cuteness and adorability in charming excess. Yet it’s almost done in by one of the most ham-fisted examples of didactic liberalism to come out of any major studio release for quite some time (animated or otherwise).

I stress “almost” because its strengths not only save it but actually transcend its moralizing. This is a treat to be indulged in the theaters, and in 3D. I dare say it’s a major accomplishment in modern animation. The Lorax’s optical “wow” factor is high and occasionally off-the-charts. But as the film progresses, it builds from being a sensible parable about conservation to bald-faced demonizing of corporations.

The story opens with a high-energy pop-style Broadway chorus tune that sets a spectacular foundation—tonally and visually—for what’s to come. It’s set in the town of Thneed-Ville, a walled-in community teaming with life that is completely artificial; even air is produced and sold. The need for air production is due to the fact that there are no longer any trees (key organisms for photosynthesis, the naturally occurring process that releases oxygen into the atmosphere). 

Young Audrey (country music superstar Taylor Swift, Valentine’s Day) dreams of having a real tree, not just the ones painted on the side of her house or the electrical gizmos that adorn the streets. Hoping to win her heart, Tweenager Ted (Zac Efron, New Year’s Eve) follows the advice of his Grammy Norma (Betty White, You Again) to sneak outside Thneed-Ville’s barriers and track down the mysterious Once-ler, a hermit rumored to hold the truth of where a seed may still exist.

Zooming out into the barren wasteland on his zippy uni-scooter, Ted finds The Once-ler (Ed Helms, The Hangover Part II) hidden in a rickety old shack under self-imposed exile. From behind the boarded-up walls, The Once-ler begins to tell the tale of how the once tree-filled landscape came to its lifeless ruin. It is a story at which The Once-ler’s younger self plays an important part, and the mythical Lorax (Danny DeVito, When in Rome)—the guardian of the forest—serves as comic relief, Seussical poet, and moral conscience.

This creates the plot’s framework where we’re taken back-and-forth between the past and present. It’s a potentially problematic structure as the time-shifting could get confusing to an unsophisticated child, but the two threads compliment each other well plus the writers and directors are rather deft at transitioning smoothly and clearly between the narratives (even if they could’ve made the task a bit easier by not making Ted and the young Once-ler look so similar; one blonde, one brunette—how hard can that be?).

The Lorax is a wonder to look at, boasting the best animation we’ve seen this side of Pixar and categorically the best work from the crew that brought us Despicable Me, Horton Hears A Who!, and rougher early efforts like Ice Age. Colors are rich and vibrant, characters joyful, with set designs full of invention and Seussiness (the trees are like cotton candy varietals that garnish curvy stalks).

And then on top of all that, there’s some truly eye-popping 3D. This re-emergent technology has long appeared to be in stasis with no hope for improvement regarding its minimal depth and over-priced value—but clearly this technology is advancing, and what’s on display here ranks with the best yet.  Not only does the world seem to go deeper into the screen, with objects more believably separated and authentically moving in space, but it also flaunts some legitimate “jump out at you” moments that made many in my preview audience (including myself) reflexively jerk back. Most 3D experiences haven’t been worth the extra coin. This one definitely is. I absolutely loved watching this movie.

Too bad this animated agitprop also starts to grate, even insult. It’s one thing to be pro-environment, and even have a tree-hugging spirit. It’s another thing entirely to not only villainize Business (big or otherwise) but to go so far as to categorically misrepresent reality. The mid-movie show-stopping number “How Bad Can I Be?!”—sung by the forest-killing Corporate Tycoon—is condescending at best and brainwashing at worst.

Yes, an animated film by its very nature is going to simplify any issue it broaches, and that’s fine; no one should expect this one to represent nuances such as how government regulations actually require the lumber industry to exponentially plant more trees than it cuts down. But to literally create a false metaphor so as to suggest that an industry is not replenishing its own renewable (and necessary) resource isn’t just unfair—it’s propaganda. Given that its target audience is still impressionable, it’s also irresponsible.

Which, in the case of this movie, is really too bad because—its propagandizing aside—this is such a wonderful, warm-hearted, smile-inducing spectacle of contemporary animated artistry. It also knows how to find levels of humor and energy rather than simply assaulting our senses for ninety minutes and, on the whole, is such welcome reason for the whole family to go to the movies.

It’s so good, in fact, that the positives definitely outweigh the over-bearing negative. Kids’ sensibilities will largely gravitate toward the former, and any concern for the latter is easily dispelled with the parental guidance of sharing how our country takes care to ensure that the USA will never become the wasteland seen outside Thneed-Ville. If they still want to go plant a tree and recycle to make doubly sure, then so much the better.

As Seuss purists go, I’d wager they may be surprisingly won over by the artistic interpretation even as narrative liberties are taken, as well as enjoy the amusing voice ensemble led by Danny DeVito and Ed Helms. But if anything makes them proclaim as the Lorax did “What’s that THING you’ve made out of my Truffula tuft?!” it’ll be the dogmatic over-reach of a theme that didn’t need the billy-clubbing.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: None.
  • Language/Profanity: One d-word.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Teasing a boy about wanting to kiss a girl. A boy has a crush on a girl. A girl kisses a boy on the cheek.
  • Violence: Action thrills, but nothing scary or violent.