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Review: The Lorax (2012)

The Lorax (2012)

Directed by: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

Premise: Adapted from the book by Dr. Seuss. A boy living in a plastic society searches for a tree that will win him the girl of his dreams. On his journey his discovers the story of The Lorax, the protector of the forest.

What Works: The high points of The Lorax occur in the scenes that include the title character. The Lorax is voiced by Danny DeVito which plays against expectations for the character by shifting him away from the cliché of the Yoda-esque wise old man. In this film The Lorax is an earnest but flawed character and his failures weigh more heavily because of that humanity. The rest of the film also has some impressive visuals. Although the picture sometimes has an infantile look like that of children’s cartoon, the world of Dr. Seuss’ book comes alive through animation in ways that are far superior to the live action adaptations of Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat. The physical comedy is mostly effective and the picture generally shifts well between dramatic and comedic material. 

What Doesn’t: Although The Lorax has some impressive visuals, its narrative is troubled. The story is structured as a frame narrative, which is a storytelling construction in which a character in the present tells or is told the main story in flashback. The risk with frame narratives is that the outlying story may come across as a contrivance and that is certainly the case with The Lorax. The frame involves a young man (voice of Zac Efron) living in an entirely manufactured and inorganic society who tries to find a real tree in order to impress his crush. This leads him outside the walls of society in which he encounters The Once-ler (voice of Ed Helms), who tells him the story that constitutes the bulk of the film. There is a serious disconnect between these two parts of the story. The inner frame is mostly well done and reasonably satisfying but the outer frame is weakened by annoying characters and a cartoonish approach to its storytelling. Although the Once-ler’s story is a compelling tale about greed and the loss of innocence, the main story is a lame counterpart that comes down to a boy trying to manipulate a girl into giving him a kiss. This leads to the other major problem of The Lorax, which is in the film’s agenda. The story of The Lorax makes a bid for conservation and social responsibility. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that agenda but the film hits it so obtusely on the nose that it becomes obnoxious. Stories should have a point, even if it is something mundane or inoffensive, but that point should spring naturally out of the text through the action of the plot and the epiphanies of the characters. The Lorax does not lead us to a conclusion but rather foists one on the audience, literally spelling it out on the screen before the end credits begin to roll. This is a tactless way of making the point. That the film does this in the midst of a sometimes obnoxious cartoon makes the political point impossible to take seriously.

Bottom Line: The Lorax is entertaining but it has serious short comings. The style of the story is geared much more for children than for general audiences and the film’s theme was done better in WALL-E and Avatar.

Episode: #379 (March 11, 2012)