Despite its gaudy palette, there's a timely ecological message at the heart of this 3D family animation.
In barren, all-plastic Thneedville, 12-year-old Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) wants to impress his beloved Audrey (Taylor Swift) with a real Truffula tree. So he ventures out to the wastelands beyond the city’s walls, little realising that air-selling entrepreneur O’Hare (Rob Riggle) will do anything to stop the return of trees (and of free, photosynthesised oxygen).
None of the names, characters, locations or situations in this framing narrative are to be found in Dr Seuss' 1972 children’s book 'The Lorax', belying the authorial attribution in the film’s title.
Yet the scenes in Thneedville – part throwback to a '50s-style suburban utopia of blithe singalong exuberance; part post-modern metropolis of rampant, blinkered consumerism – bring the good Doctor’s environmental concerns right back to the future, satirising everything from the surveillance society to our current obsession with pointless technology and the craze for bottled water.
Seuss’ original story kicks in only when Ted meets the reclusive Once-ler (Ed Helms), who remorsefully narrates a parable allegorising the Western history of colonialism, exploitation and resource depletion. In it, a younger Once-ler gradually destroys the idyllic Truffula Valley (as well as his own innocence), felling all its trees to manufacture faddish ‘Thneeds’, despite repeated warnings of dire consequences from ‘slightly annoying’ arboreal spokesman the Lorax (Danny DeVito), who eventually departs the devastated Valley in disgust.
The ecological message here is timely, complicated and unapologetically liberal. Just as the Once-ler wins over the Valley’s woodland denizens with a bribe of marshmallow treats, the film’s bitter pill is sugared not only with Truffula forests that look just like candy floss, but also with chipmunk-a-like fish choruses, geriatric snowboarding, a vertiginous climactic chase sequence and cutesy critter business aplenty.
Amidst all this padding (and some of it really feels like padding) and the razzle-dazzle 3D CGI, the Lorax himself and his grumpy admonitions are pushed to the margins, impaired of impact and importance. Although, by way of compensation, Seuss’ Once-ler is here given a human face, while his central musical number ‘How Bad Can I Be?’ operates as an anthem for the self-serving, cynical casuistry of our own times.
From the makers of Horton Hears a Who! and Despicable Me.
A candy-coloured eye assault with too much in the way of narrative padding.
...but its message is ambitious and timely.