Like countless parents, when my kids were young I spent many a bedtime reading them their vavourite rhyming tales of Dr Seuss: The Cat In The Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, How The Grinch Stole Christmas and, of course The Lorax.
A cautionary eco- fable about corporate greed and its impact on the environment, written in 1971 its message was ahead of its time but is all too relevant today. The original relates how a young boy living in a polluted world visits a mysterious recluse named The Once-ler, who tells him how he came upon a beautiful world full of happy creatures and colourful Truffula trees, and began to chop these down to help make his Threeds, the invention he believes will make him rich.
Out of a tree stump magically emerges a small bewhiskered furry orange creature who says he’s the Lorax and the protector of the trees. He warns him of the consequences of cutting them down, but the Once-ler ignores him, calling his family to come and help with the job.
The multi-purpose Threeds are a huge success and the factory thrives, but as the trees fall, with nowhere to live the creatures are forced to flee. Eventually, the Once-ler’s greed leads to the felling of the very last Truffula tree. Which brings about the end of the factory, the disappearance of the Lorax and the pollution that covers the land. However, realising that, like the Lorax, the boy cares about the trees, the Once-ler gives him the last remaining Truffula seed in the hope that the trees can return.
It’s a particularly dark story but, with its final note of hope, designed to teach children about the importance of caring for nature and the environment. Naturally, there’s not enough in it to make a feature film out of so the team behind Despicable Me have added new characters and more plot.
In the big screen version, 12 year old scooter-riding Ted, (voiced by Zak Efron) lives in Thneedville, an enclosed polluted town where, from insects to grass, all nature is artificial. The place is run by Aloysius O’Hare, a diminutive tycoon who resembles a male version of Edna Mole in The Incredibles, whose wealth and power comes from selling bottled air and who keeps everyone in the city under surveillance.
However, Ted has a crush on the slightly older Audrey (Taylor Swift) whose dream is to see a real tree. So, to win her heart, encouraged by his kooky gran (Berry Wright), he sneaks out of Thneedville into the grim barren valley beyond to visit the Once-ler (Ed Helms) who, with flashbacks to his younger, inexplicably guitar-playing self, tells him the tragic tale of the Truffula trees, the Thneeds, the Lorax (Danny DeVito), and a pastoral paradise lost.
Naturally, O’Hare doesn’t want any nasty organic trees producing oxygen for free in Thneedville, so with his two henchmen, he first tries to threaten Ted and then to steal the Truffula seed before he can plant it.
All of which is told with vibrant splashes of primary colours, a gaudy, noisy, relentless energy and lots of unnecessary unmemorable songs. Speaking in his broad New Joisey accent De Vito is fabulously perfect as the slightly grouchy Lorax, swapping bickering banter with the Once-ler, but unfortunately, by plot necessity, he’s only in half of the film. And, when the story reverts to its tacked on love-interest plot with a rather bland Ted trying to outwit a not overly menacing O’Hare, it becomes rather mediocre and a lot less fun or imaginative, even the frantic chase finale seems to have been borrowed from WALL-E.
With lots and lots of slapstick (I lost count of the number of times people and creatures were sent flying through the air), it plays young and there’s no doubt that eight year olds and under with short attention spans will adore the cute creatures and the roller coaster rides even if they might not quite get all of the conservation lesson.
However, while they can’t fail to grasp the message, older children and, most certainly adults, may find it a little too busy and lacking in charm. It is, though, at its best in the flashbacks where the film also proves its most inspired, populating Truffula Valley with, not just the loveable Lorax and the trees, looking like candyfloss sticks, but also the inventive comic relief creation of Seuss’ Bar-ba-loots (fuzzy bear-like creatures, and, naturally, there’s a funny fat kid in there too) and Humming-fish (whistling the theme to Mission: Impossible) who, as the film’s answer to the Minions, are arguably the best thing in it.
It’s a lot more upbeat than the original story – which must have given kids more nightmares than sweet dreams – and the CGI animation is excellent, with even the use of 3-D proving amusing and effective. But, as Seuss’ moral would have it, wanting more can often mean ending up with less, so when, at the start of the film the Lorax appears on screen and says “nothing’s going to get better. It’s not”, you might consider that a warning.
BBFC Guidance: Contains no material likely to offend or harm
LGWTC Guidance: Young children will love it but it’s nowhere near as good as Horton Hears A Who