Neely Swanson

“The Lorax”: Dr. Seuss goes Green

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"Dr. Seuss' The Lorax", a 3D-CG adventure from the creators of "Despicable Me" and the imagination of Dr. Seuss, features DANNY DEVITO as the gruff but lovable Lorax.

“The Lorax,” a beloved children’s book by Dr. Seuss explores questions of the environment in glorious 3D-rendered animation patterned after the drawings of the master himself. And the animation is absolutely eye-popping with super bright neon colors.

Once upon a time, the Once-ler, a nice ambitious young man with an idea made his first foray into the Truffula forest to harvest the wonderfully soft fur atop the Truffula trees. Wasting one of nature’s finest treasures brings out the wrath of the Lorax, a creature put on earth to protect its resources. For a while, the Lorax and the Once-ler live in happy harmony with the trees and creatures that populate the area. But soon, Once-ler’s greed overcomes him and deforestation devastates the area leaving him cursed by the Lorax who, with the other creatures, disappears.

Thneedville, named after the Once-ler’s invention, is now a totally plastic town dominated by the villainous O’Hare who made his fortune selling bottled air when pollution took over the town. Ted, our 12 year old hero, in love with Audrey, the girl of his dreams, has a mission – an important mission that clashes with the goals of O’Hare. Ted has vowed to bring back a real Truffula tree in order to win the fair Audrey’s heart. But in order to do that, he must find the Once-ler because, as his beloved grandmother points out, only the Once-ler knows the answers to what went wrong and how to fix it.

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Created by the team responsible for “Despicable Me,” “The Lorax” is a quasi musical, with “High School Musical”-style songs and choreography bursting into big production numbers at unlikely and incoherent moments. It’s not that the music isn’t good, it is; or that the choreography and dancing by the animated characters isn’t fun and well executed, it is; it’s just that it’s incongruous and inorganic to the overall story. And there lies the rub for this animation-loving adult. For some reason the director Chris Renaud and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio took a kitchen sink approach wandering off point so often that the message is diluted. Dr. Seuss books are slight, lesson-laden and compact; “The Lorax” is just such a story with a very contemporary theme – Take care of the environment or there won’t be one left.

Some of the voices are good, some okay and others not too terrific. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time to hire Danny DeVito as the Lorax. He has name and voice recognition and is in with the “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” crowd. But his voice is “street,” without warmth or a commanding presence – both qualities necessary for the Lorax. The Once-ler, as voiced by Ed Helms, is fairly non-descript; but Betty White (Ted’s grandmother) is an absolute delight as is Jenny Slate (Ted’s mother). Taylor Swift is given little to voice as Audrey. Zac Efron, however, is wonderful as Ted, vocally conveying Ted’s wide-eyed innocence, determination and pluck. Would that the writers had spent less time creating big, incomprehensible (although clever) production numbers and concentrated more on making use of Efron’s talent as a singer.

The animation itself is fabulous, bringing dimensionality to Seuss’s own original drawings. I am becoming more and more convinced that 3D is a must for animation – but only if the theater admission prices can be made more family-friendly. The French production team has shown itself to be leaders in non-Pixar animation and it is a joy to watch.

More important than my criticisms of the film, however, was audience reaction for the theater was filled with children. Although there were no gasps, squeals of joy or much laughter, each child that I asked, in my own unofficial poll, indicated that they had really liked the film. So once again, you decide.

What is this film? What is it about? If you see it and know, then give me a shout.

Opening Friday March 2 at the ArcLight Beach Cities; AMC South Bay Galleria 16; AMC Rolling Hills 20; AMC Del Amo 18.

Neely also writes a blog about writers in television and film at www.nomeanerplace.com.

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