The 1976 cartoon version of “The Lorax”—a simple message about the ramifications of environmental abuse—has been replayed in public high schools for nearly 30 years. Now, a hefty helping of left-wing, environmentalist propaganda blatantly misuses Dr. Seuss—who is rightly considered as more nonsensical children’s poet than radical warrior. Director Chris Renaud has transformed a memorable story into the spectacle that is the new eponymous 3D recreation. Based on Seuss’ 1971 children’s book, the film is an overbearing bastardization of the original, understated message to be kind to the environment.
“The Lorax” follows the 12 year-old protagonist Ted Wiggins (Zac Efron) as he attempts to win over Audrey (Taylor Swift), the girl of his dreams, by finding something which has not existed for years in their hometown, Thneedville: the Truffula tree. The counsel of his wacky Grammy Norma (Betty White) leads him outside of Thneedville to the home of a hermit called the Once-ler who explains that he came to the virgin land of Thneedville long ago to capitalize on an invention called the Thneed, a useless Snuggie-like piece of fabric that serves as a symbol of senseless consumerism that requires the fluffy leaves of Truffula trees.
The Once-ler ultimately destroys the Truffula forest despite long monologues by the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a furious, furry creature who magically appears whenever the Once-ler takes one more step towards creating an ecological hell. Now, a mean-to-the-bone villain, Aloysius O’Hare (Rob Riggle), rules over the terribly polluted Thneedville and sells residents fresh air, therefore holding a vested interest in thwarting Ted’s mission to replant the Truffula trees. Then, like any children’s movie, there is a chase scene, pretty colors, and some cringe-worthy tunes interspersed with some subtle adult-appeasing jokes. Halfway through the film, for example, a Budweiser-esque ad for O’Hare’s Air warns people to “please breathe responsibly.”
Not even the celebrity medley of Efron, Swfit, White, and DeVito is enough to distract from the cookie-cutter blandness of the film’s characters. For example, Swift’s character, Audrey, is a lot of a “desired object” than self-aware character. She has very little to say, hardly any hand in helping the story’s hero, and all of the superficialities of the archetypal distressed damsel. On the other side, main villain O’Hare, who embodies as the greedy nightmare of a white, male, corporate, capitalist requires a knowledge of the 2008 Wall Street crisis to appreciate.
Understandably, “The Lorax” would not be “The Lorax” without its moral imperative. Seuss did pen the book a year after the first Earth Day, and most of his stories are well known for sliding a moral or two between the lines—even if it’s only to stop being such a Grinch. But the original Seussian message was a simple one: be wary of the resources you use. The simplicity of this message is lost in the film with a plethora of cute animals and endless barrage of colors and motion that the director most likely included to try and keep his elementary-aged audience’s attention.
When the message does shine through, the strength of it becomes overwhelming. One of the film’s most representative songs, “How Bad Can I Be,” features the Once-ler at his corporate-coddling, Wall-Street-waltzing best. He drops a list of lines that refer back to concepts like Social Darwinism, which, for the average five year-old, are as accessible as Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
The end result is a film that falls far outside the book’s original scope. The slap-stick comedy, queasy 3D motion-inducing nausea, and hit-and-miss animation might be enough to appease children superficially. However, parents will have to amuse themselves with an inculcation of environmentalism that their children will miss altogether.