Dr. Seuss' The Lorax is being released on what would have been Theodor Geisel's 108th birthday--and it's just a half step above the adaptations/presents we've gotten him every other year. It's a shiny, peppy retelling of one of his poignant, gorgeous, world-shaping books, with pleasingly round animation and lots of songs that melt together like molten cotton candy. It ends up being the cinematic embodiment of children's breakfast cereal; somewhere under the overwhelming taste of sugar, they say there are nutrients in there, but I remain wary.
Although kids will go gaga over the visuals and animals smacking each other, I can't escape the opinion that the original stories pack a punch because of their highly concentrated nature. Toying with the formula and expanding on them makes them like a 60-year-old plastic surgery addict--bloated, whorey, and tired--no matter how much paint you put on them. The movie opens with a big, sweeping musical number that introduces us to Thneedville, which is a land made out of plastic. No one remembers the real environment--and it's so visually dazzling that you're bound to forget nature exists, too. A kid named Ted (Zac Efron) is in love with an artistic hippie named Audrey (Taylor Swift) who claims she will kiss and marry anyone who shows her a real live Truffula tree. With the power of hormones to guide him, he finds the home of the mysterious Once-Ler (Ed Helms) who promises to help him find a tree.
The story falls apart quickly because the Once-Ler can't seem to get to the point. He repeatedly demands that Ted go home and return again so he can continue his looooooong story about how he destroyed the environment, which is a poorly masked opportunity for the filmmakers to stretch for length. Every time Ted returns to Thneedville, he has to dodge Edna from The Incredibles…er, I mean Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle). O'Hare is a dime store hood who had the brilliant idea of selling people bottled air when the Once-Ler ruined the forests, so he now runs the heartless, synthetic city with an iron fist. Ted's secondary sex characteristics prove too powerful for O'Hare and his henchmen, and he impatiently listens to the Once-Ler's story for days on end--or at least, that's how it felt sitting there.
The Lorax (Danny DeVito) is the guardian of the forest, and the Once-Ler was destroying it in order to get rich, so they didn't get along. In the quiet simplicity of the book, the Lorax seems more like one's conscience. In the movie, he just comes off as a passive-aggressive, impotent, Boston baked bean. He resorts to manipulation to get his way, and even though he's right, it's still hard to be on his side. In fact, the cutesy-wutesy little bears and harmonizing fish make a much better case for saving the forest. I know he's supposed to be the stalwart leader of All Things Earth, but by the time he pinched his nubby tail and flew away into the sky, I was glad to see him go.
This classic call to arms for people to "care a whole lot" is almost certainly going to make Fox news anchors foam at the mouth, blaming liberal media for the world's skewed view of big industry. When they said that to the Muppets I guffawed, but this time, they might actually be more right than wrong. Expanding the story to include more cartoony villains and watering down the influence of the good guys results in a story that made me happy to drive away in my gas-powered vehicle.