'The Lorax' Review: Eco-Hypocrisy Leavened by Whimsical Creatures

'The Lorax' Review: Eco-Hypocrisy Leavened by Whimsical Creatures

Conservatives can’t fly the “sucker punch” flag over “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.” The new animated film is based on the eco-friendly 1971 tome from the children’s book author, a fable about an irascible creature who “speaks for the trees.”

In Dr. Seuss’s capable hands, “The Lorax” spun a tale cushioned by his sense of restraint and verbal dexterity.

In Hollywood’s clumsier mitts, “The Lorax’s” message machine all but shouts its disdain for capitalism – just disregard those 3D glasses meant to squeeze every last nickel out of movie goers. Yet “The Lorax” charms all the same thanks to bold choices in the voice cast and a complicated story told with a deftness that defies the messages in play.

Young Ted (Zac Efron) wants to win the heart of the beguiling Audrey (Taylor Swift), a local girl with sun-kissed blonde locks. When he learns she’d do just about anything to see a real, live tree he decides to find a way – any way – to get her one.

If only it were that simple.

Ted and Audrey leave in Thneed-ville, a plastic wonderland without a single leaf. Ted’s quest to find a long lost Truffula tree, the swirly topped trees which once grew across the land, leads him to the edge of town. It’s there where he meets the mysterious Once-ler (Ed Helms), a creature who lives in a tall, rickety tower.

The Once-ler spins a tragic tale about a young capitalist who stuck it rich by creating a multi-purpose sweater, just like the one in Dr. Seuss’ original tale. But the greedy man soon learned what happens when you usurp the earth’s resources to make more, more, more.

The team behind “Despicable Me” – director Chris Renaud and screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio – balance both the source material and the need to keep young viewers engaged. To do so, they navigate several story layers while playing up the cuddly nature of some singing fish and prancing bears. But it’s the Lorax himself who emerges as the most intriguing creation, in no small part thanks to Danny DeVito’s signature voice.

The Lorax would cause a commotion thanks to his bristly mustache alone. But DeVito makes his oddly urgent proclamations – “I speak for the trees” – the kind of battle cry modern tree huggers will call their own. He’s angry, not joyous, with an edge to his voice that would make him a fine candidate for an eco-terrorist academy.

The film’s creative team expand Dr. Seuss’ story by necessity, but the results are mixed at best. We get to know the Once-ler’s hillbilly family, a subplot which adds nothing but another stereotype to the mix. But the romance between Ted and Audrey is undeniably sweet, with the young voice actors giving the characters a cheeky sense of young love.

Parents who cried foul over the “evil” oil baron character in “The Muppets” will recoil in horror during “The Lorax.” The title character finds the cutting of a single tree to be an abomination, and the film rallies the woodland creatures to make it seem as if any fallen tree is a tragedy of epic proportions. And the film’s villain, a clean air tycoon voices by comedian Rob Riggle, is the epitome of how Hollywood sees corporations. Soulless. Heartless. Undeniably cruel.

The tycoon even spies on the citizens of Thneed-ville just to gain an edge on the competition – as if such a wicked company would even allow such a thing.

“Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” might have a message right-leaning audiences won’t want to hear, but the film’s sophisticated storytelling and buoyant musical numbers will make this eco-parable go down easily.