The Lorax

Dr. Seuss’ 1971 tree-hugger tale The Lorax gets a Candy Land-esque treatment in the latest animated marvel from the folks behind Despicable Me, and for the most part, it works. And works well.

Sure, there are the inherent problems with turning a 45-page book into a 90-minute movie, but The Lorax manages to keep all of Seuss’ magic and whimsy in place, and much of the filler actually fits.

The new backstory tells us about Ted (Zac Efron), a young boy with googly-eyes for high school cutie Audrey (Taylor Swift). They both live in Thneedville, where everything is synthetic, right down to the blow-up trees and bottled air. When she tells him her dream is to see a real tree, he takes it as a personal challenge, hopeful that a kiss from his crush might be the reward.

Ted’s Grammy (Betty White) tells him about the old Once-ler (Ed Helms) who lives outside the walls of their Truman Show-like city, so Ted hops on his scooter to go find him. When Ted finds the gruvvulous-gloved hermit, he’s told the story of how truffula trees once grew far and wide.

From the Brown Bar-ba-loots to the Humming-fish, we then see everything from Seuss’ book brought to life in vivid colors. Co-directors Chris Renauld (Despicable Me) and Kyle Balda (the DVD-attached Minion shorts) went to great lengths to stay true to Seuss’ style, presenting the truffula world in a way that instantly evokes the good doctor’s artistry.

Longtime writing partners Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (Despicable Me, Horton Hears a Who!) crafted a screenplay that doesn’t include nearly enough of Seuss’ words, but the playfulness and the anti-industrial theme (especially the anti-industrial theme) are still there.

Efron, Swift, and Helms are all perfect in their voice roles, along with Rob Riggle as Thneedville’s pint-sized despot of a mayor, but it’s Danny DeVito’s gruff turn as The Lorax that steals the show, and not only because The Lorax looks more than a bit like DeVito wearing an orange bodysuit.

As for that filler, there are a handful of fun (though forgettable) musical numbers and a couple 3D-tastic scenes (one involving marshmallows, the other– Ted in a bed on a river), but The Lorax does occasionally feel like the filmmakers were grasping at straws to find something to turn what could have been a great half-hour TV special into a full-length movie.

As for the message? Sure, the National Arbor Day Foundation has a new favorite film, but there are worse messages to send than, ‘Hey kids, go plant a tree!’

4/5 stars