It’s not too much to ask for a children’s film to be appealing to adults as much as their keiki and for a family movie to have a good message. The latest Dr. Seuss adaptation, The Lorax, will be a delight for children but a patience tester for many parents and an eye roller for those who don’t like CGI family films that are obnoxious and in-your face.
The introductory scenes are promising, as we’re introduced to a world in which everything is literally plastic. The idea is visually more fun than you’d expect, as characters blow up fake trees the way you’d inflate a bicycle tire. All of the CGI is beautiful, saturated in color and detail, but we’re getting to the point that computer effects are so predictably immaculate and intricately detailed, most middle of the road or even bad movies have passable CGI.
The title character is a furry, orange and friendly creature who is a friend of the trees and voiced by Danny DeVito. He befriends a young boy named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), who is trying to win over his neighborhood crush (voiced by Taylor Swift). Ted discovers that the artificial town he lives in is a facade and that the real world surrounding it is in danger of losing their environmental landscape. By taking the advice of a mysterious storyteller (voiced by Ed Helms), Ted learns the importance of caring for the land you call your home.
I’m a huge fan of DeVito, both as an actor and director, but nothing about his vocal performance or his walrus-mustached role will stay with you. In fact, I never cared about any of these characters, who are all generic and predictable (starting with Ted, less interesting than even Efron’s High School Musical character). It’s no surprise that Betty White is playing a hipper-than-hip Grandma, a concept funnier and slightly fresher when Glenn Close did the same thing in Hoodwinked! There’s also a whole subplot, involving company-controlled fresh air, lifted from Spaceballs.
There is a right approach and need for environmental and socially conscious messages in children’s films, with Wall-E providing a strong example. Here, the hug-a-tree scenes become so heavy handed, I wondered if the movie would ever start being fun again. A scene of cute teddy bears and magical beings making a morose, mass exit from their homes is a real bummer. The title character comes off at times like a hairier, tinier Al Gore and the third act is so slap-you-across-the-face message heavy, you’d think it were Happy Feet 3.
There’s also a villain, voiced by the usually reliable Rob Riggle, who is so visually unpleasant that he’s not enjoyably hiss-able but a genuinely hateful target of short jokes. Then there’s the music numbers, which you’ll forget the moment the singing stops, and the stale gags, which are typical of a moment where White’s Grandma makes an “L” sign on her forehead and yells out “loser!” How very 1999.
The directors of the equally chaotic, irritatingly “hip” hit Despicable Me made this one as well. Even with Seuss’ name in the title, this is more like the Jim Carrey Grinch than the adorable CGI Horton Hears a Who. I suspect Seuss wouldn’t care for how most recent movies based on his works are crammed with aggressively glib, sitcom-level humor and acting. Kids may enjoy it and the 3-D effects impress but this is more “talk to the hand!” than “oh, the places you will go” or “I like green eggs, Sam I am.”
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
Rated PG/94 Min.