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Dr. Seuss saves the Earth – ‘The Lorax’

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Animated film offers laughs, environmental themes

The works of Dr. Seuss have been adapted to the big screen many times over the years with mixed results. For whatever reason, some of his stories translate well to film while others simply do not. However, his canon is so universally beloved that the movies just keep on coming.

The latest attempt is “The Lorax,” from the same team that did 2010’s excellent “Despicable Me.” Chris Renaud and Ken Daurio are certainly talented, and there are some great moments here, but the movie never seems to quite live up to its potential.

The film tells the story of Ted (Zac Efron, “New Year’s Eve”), a 12-year-old boy who lives in the town of Thneedville. Thneedville is a town where nothing natural grows, everything is made out of metal and plastic and the air they breathe is sold to them by the tiny and tyrannical Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle, “Big Miracle”). Ted is smitten with neighbor Audrey (Taylor Swift, “Valentine’s Day”), who tells him about her desire to see a real tree.

Ted undertakes a quest to get a tree for Audrey, which leads him outside of town. He sees the truth about what life in Thneedville really means. He also meets the Once-Ler (Ed Helms, “The Hangover Part II”), a cranky recluse who tells Ted the story of the trees – and the Lorax.

The Once-Ler was once a young entrepreneur – the inventor of the Thneed, which would give Ted’s town its name. He came to the forest looking for the right material for his invention and wound up meeting all of the denizens of the forest. And when he chopped down that first tree, the Lorax (Danny Devito, TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) appeared.

After some initial conflict, the Once-Ler and the Lorax settle into a slightly uneasy truce. However, when the Thneed proves more popular than anyone could ever have dreamed, decisions are made that affect their relationship – not to mention the entire forest.

Oh, and Mr. O’Hare is trying desperately to keep Ted from bringing back the trees – trees that make for free the air he currently charges for.

There’s a lot to like about this movie. The extended flashbacks featuring Helms and Devito are especially good; they’re both vocally expressive in the best way. Devito in particular is great; no one else could have been the Lorax. The children at our screening seemed particularly delighted by the antics of the Lorax’s assorted forest chums.

The main arc doesn’t quite measure up. It just isn’t that engaging, though Efron and Swift are surprisingly effective and Betty White is her usual magnificently funny self in a few scenes as Ted’s Grammy. Rob Riggle is clearly enjoying himself as Mr. O’Hare, though he’s a bit underused. But we simply don’t care as much about the town of Thneedville as we do about the Lorax and the Once-Ler.

There are a few moments where the film gets a bit heavy-handed and preachy with regards to its already-obvious environmental themes. I get it – that’s part of what the book was about – but Dr. Seuss adaptations should not be “message movies.” Additionally, I was unimpressed with most of the musical numbers (though Ed Helms absolutely kills it on “How Bad Could I Be?”).

Put it all together and you’re left with a movie that, while perfectly entertaining (and a touch dark in spots), isn’t nearly the film it could have been. “The Lorax” is certainly a fine children’s movie – your kids will likely love it – but with a few slight changes, it might have been a classic.

3 out of 5

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