The story of The Lorax has never felt right to me. Either the Once-ler is the most short-sighted whatsit in the world, next to the Lorax himself (or at least the forest creatures), or the entire tale is a buried parable on the importance of stable property rights. Given Seuss’s general lack of subtlety when making a political point, the latter probably isn’t the case. In any event, why does no one preserve the Truffula trees? If the Once-ler owns the forest, and his business is based on the Truffula trees, why on earth would he practice clear-cutting?
He, like pretty much every other private timber company that owns the forest they log, has an incentive to preserve the forest (unless he’s renting it from the creatures, but that doesn’t seem to be the case) – clearly the Once-ler needed to fire his business planner. Or, once the land had been deforested, should have sold it and the seed to another logging concern.
Heck, they’d probably seek him out, since Truffula trees are a hot commodity, and there’s a lot of Thneedians; we already know that one of the characters is a budding entrepreneur, it’d be a lot easier and a lot more profitable for him to replant the forest than find a way to sell air. Evidently the Thneedians don’t understand marginal utility, but that’s okay, what gets me is how Seuss (and the movie) stacks the odds in his favor.
What does this have to do with The Lorax? Sadly, quite a bit, since the movie isn’t so much a message about the environment as an attack on business, taking snipes at industry with misplaced throwaway gags, such as a poster in the Once-ler’s office that says “Too Big to Fail” (what do the bailouts have to do with, well, anything here?), making the villain one step away from a turn-of-the-century-mustache-twirling-cigar-smoking-Statue-of-Liberty-raping-fat-ass-cat, and an entire song dedicated to the evilness of corporations.
I get that it’s for kids, but self-serving, self-congratulatory, and constantly-reinforced morals get under my skin. At least Tower Heist dwelled on it for a while then let the lack of comedy take over.
So the story begins in Thneedville, a pre-packaged community where the residents relish their lack of trees and expensive air (owned by Libtery-raping villain O’Hare) to the point where they’ll sing rapturously about it (and happily mention that they don’t care where the waste goes, despite the fact that it turns their kids radioactive—really?). We meet Ted (Zac Effron), a kid who’s in love with his neighbor Audrey (Taylor Swift), who’s in love with Truffula trees.
If Ted gets one, she’ll give him a kiss…or possibly marry him. Ted lives at home with his mother (Jenny Slate, doing a Fran Drescher impersonation) and his rappin’ granny (Betty White). Granny, ever the plot device, tells Ted that he should talk to the Once-ler, who lives outside of town. Ted ventures outside of town. See Ted adventure outside of town. See Ted navigate the various booby traps outside of town. See the traps come at you in 3D as Ted navigates the traps outside of town. Go, 3D, go!
So Ted meets up with the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who tells him the story of his deforesting the outside of town and the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a furry little whatsit who’s sworn to protect the forest but does a really poor job of it. This takes up the bulk of the film, with some breaks as Ted goes back to town and a subplot (or is it technically the main plot?) develops where O’Hara threatens Ted against venturing outside of town.
The animation is decent, though the characters are bland. There’s really not much done with the design, save for the goofy face of O’Hara, which amounts to some silly hair that could have been done in live-action. In fact, outside of the trees, the Lorax, and the fish, the look of Seuss is dropped for the same kind of look as Illumination’s previous feature Despicable Me.
The songs, while they do, to some extent, move the plot forward, are tough to get through and feel wedged in at perfunctory intervals. In my screening, the kids were likewise unimpressed, and the lyrics were not too sophisticated to go over their heads.
The highlight is, of course, Danny DeVito as the Lorax. The rest of the characters are rote—just there to be something that moves some semblance of story forward. Ted’s dull, Audrey’s dull, O’Hara’s dull, Granny is just there to capitalize on the tiresome resurrection of Betty White (a snowbaording scene? Really?), but there’s a charm that DeVito brings to Seuss’s perpetually grumpy thingamawhatsit.
It’s a good casting decision because the character could have very, very easily been a party-pooping grouch that dragged the movie down, but instead, the writers actually had some fun with him, and the movie benefits from it—that is, until it ditches him to focus on Ted for the last third. Plus he looks like my girlfriend’s kitty, and that’s pretty cute.