Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Directed by: Chris Renaud & Kyle Balda
Starring: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White
The Lorax is the latest film from the producers of Despicable Me, starring Danny DeVito as the voice of the legendary Lorax .
The story takes place in the town of Thneed-Ville, a town made entirely of plastic and metal, with not a hint of the natural world in site. Even the trees are artificial, and come with ‘leaves’ consisting of plastic bulbs like fairy lights, or as balloon-like contraptions that can be inflated with air.
The town is completely walled off from the world around it, and the citizens live their lives quite happily in its confines, completely ignorant of what lies beyond its walls. In the middle of the town is erected a statue of Aloysius O’Hare, major of Thneed-Ville, also the greedy business mogul behind the concept of bottled oxygen, since, there being no trees in Thneed-Ville, oxygen cannot be produced naturally.
Ted, the main character, voiced by Zach Efron (whose voice is undeniably too deep for a character who’s supposed to be twelve years old), has a crush on an older girl in the neighbourhood called Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift), who confides to him that her dream is to see a real live tree, since she has never seen one before. Determined to impress her, Ted decides that he will find a real tree. But how? Luckily, his vivacious Grandma Norma, who can remember trees from her youth, has the answer. She tells him of a legendary being called the Once-ler, who will be able to tell Ted more about trees. To find the Once-ler however, Ted must (gasp) leave the town, something that he has never done before.
Ted manages to escape the confines of the town, but not without Aloysius O’Hare finding out. O’Hare realises that if Ted finds out about trees, then Ted will also realise that it is no longer necessary for the citizens of Thneed-Ville to buy bottled oxygen, since trees produce it naturally. Therefore it is in O’Hare’s greedy interests to try and stop Ted visiting the Once-ler. Meanwhile, Ted has found himself in a desolate wasteland on the outside of town. There is not a single tree in sight. Ted seeks out the Once-ler, who will be able to tell him what, exactly, has happened to all the trees…
This adaptation has expanded upon the original book by Doctor Seuss, adding new characters and developing the character of Ted, who is a nameless small boy in the book, and giving him his own story. The Once-ler has also been developed – in the book he was an enigmatic figure, perhaps not even human. A pair of hands and arms clad in long green gloves was all there was. In the films he is a tall, fairly irritating, and undoubtedly human male, who has an unwelcome habit of whipping out an electric guitar (that isn’t even plugged in) and singing glib songs at intervals.
Of the new characters, O’Hare is a great addition; slimy, grasping, and with an impressively shiny bob. He is also very short, leading to the inevitable well –trodden route of ‘short person visual gags’. The love interest sub-plot with Audrey seems inevitable considering that this is a film from America, a country in whose culture the ideal of romantic love is equal to God. Mum and Grandma are 21st century sassy – no demure housewives here.
As a general rule, the characters are of the usual fare when it comes to the 21st century onslaught of computer-animated family films (and even the old Lorax himself does not escape this criticism): vaguely irritating and without a great deal of character, other than ‘cute’, ‘goofy’ or ‘stupid’. The adaption has a very 21st century Hollywood feel overall, with the whimsical rhyming prose of Dr Seuss’s original work even made fun of at one point by Ted and Audrey. Everything is brash, hyperactive and overstated, and there are some very irritating singing goldfish.
Visually, the film is a sickly-sweet, candy -coloured affair, though some of the nature detail is nicely done. There is a visually stunning scene involving a bed floating down a river (don’t ask – you’ll have to see the film), crashing into rocks and heading towards a waterfall, at which point the ‘camera’ is pointed, rollercoaster-like, over the headboard of the bed, as it draws near to the edge. This is what 3D was probably made for. There is also an entertaining, inventive chase scene near the end of the film.
But don’t let all these Hollywood production values distract you. The film does come with an environmental message, which remains fairly undiluted, and even emotive. Because who wants to live in a world made of plastic? If you cut down all the trees, where will all the cute animals live? And why pay for air when you can grow trees and have it for free?
It’s just a shame that those very Hollywood production values seem to clash with the book’s simple message. After all – never mind Aloysius O’Hare, isn’t Hollywood the greediest, most cynical money-making machine of all? And yet it would appear, ironically, to condemn O’Hare’s money-making schemes.
Never mind. It might entertain very young children. The story is fine and gets the green message across despite the irony and the mostly cut-and-paste characters, but it’s not exactly essential viewing.