The track record so far, it ain't good.
After a bizarre, live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and a Mike Myers-desecrated Cat in the Hat that felt like the official End of Cinema, there seemed like no hope. The habit of ruining Dr. Seuss books by bringing them to the big screen had been established. When the recent animated feature version of Horton Hears a Who turned out to be simply not-so-bad, that was a little relief but not enough to engender trust in a Loraxproject. After all, Seuss's other children's books concluded on a note of hope or with old-fashioned happy endings. They should have been easy to translate. But The Lorax was an unhappy cautionary tale, one where greedy people wind up destroying the environment for profit in spite of the Lorax's dire warnings, the animals have to find a new place to live, a grieving Lorax abandons the world to its fate and darkness rules. How do you make a family film from that?
Well, first you call up the people behind Despicable Me, out-of-towners who've proven that even though they're not 100% in tune with Hollywood's all-happiness-all-the-time mandate, they're funny, smart, have a light touch with heavy stuff and, when necessary, can sell it with catchy songs. Then you let them do their thing.
This expanded, 3D version of The Lorax opens, after a brief intro from the stump-sized creature himself (voiced by Danny DeVito), with a gigantic musical number that announces the story's intentions as something aggressively different than Seuss laid out in his book and also as something true to its spirit. The environment is post-destroyed here, and an all-plastic world has sprung up in its place. This time around, though, the profit comes from the sale of clean air in an endless cycle of ruin and commerce. There's even a big song about corporate greed to make sure you don't mistake the job-creators for good guys.
When a young boy named Ted (Zac Efron) learns that he can restore the planet with the last remaining tree seed, the opposition is loudly fact-challenged (resorting to calling photosynthesis a lie) and, when that doesn't work, plain old menacing.
Which all means that conservative pundit Lou Dobbs is correct, this movie is trying to hook kids on environmentalism. And more power to it. It's frankly refreshing to see an animated family film take a clear side on an issue that affects every living creature on the planet instead of conceding that both sides have equivalent points to make. Call it An Inconvenient Truth for children, intelligently and entertainingly executed, firmly committed to science, reality and the common good. And best of all, nobody's making you take your children to see it if you happen to disagree with its stance. Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is now available on DVD, after all. The little ones will love that.