Thirty years before Al Gore was demonized for telling the truth about global warming, Dr. Seuss was chastised for promoting environmentalism in his book The Lorax. Even before its publication in 1970, global deforestation was a major problem, and it continues to this day, especially in tropical regions. I will not provide the statistics here; there’s more than enough quality information on the net for you to research. I will say that deforestation is widely agreed amongst the world’s best environmental experts to be a major contributing factor in the extinction of species, the displacement of populations, soil erosion, and changes to climactic conditions. Amazing, how perfectly one of Seuss’ rhyming passages sums up the solution: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
This message is not lost in Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, a 3D computer animated adaptation of the book. Some have already pigeonholed the film as liberal indoctrination, which I think is sad and woefully ignorant. The environment is an issue that is neither liberal nor conservative. It affects each and every one of us. Countless studies have proven this to be true. This movie does not promote a political position; it merely comments on what I believe to be well documented scientific facts. If you take the environment and science out of the equation altogether, it will still deliver a positive life message, one that I think people of all persuasions can agree on: Actions have consequences. Therefore, be sure to think things through and know exactly what you’re doing before moving forward.
If I’ve failed to convince you of its thematic merits, there are a host of other reasons to see this movie. It is, for one thing, a visually spectacular work of animation. The colors are vivid and bold. The rendered characters and environments are remarkably faithful to Seuss’ distinctly quirky visual style. The look of the film is so good that it’s second only to the previous Seuss adaptation, the wonderful Horton Hears a Who! It’s often times quite funny, and as is the case with most family friendly animated films, most of the best gags are reserved for the side characters. In this case, we have legions of teddy bears and land-dwelling goldfish, three of which harmonize in the same helium-voiced fashion of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Both species, we soon learn, are quite fond of marshmallows.
To my great surprise, it’s also the best 3D film I’ve seen since Hugo. The projection was bright and clear, and more importantly, there was a noticeable sense of depth perception. In other words, I actually felt immersed in the world. Perhaps it’s true that animation is the ideal medium for 3D. The only real disappointments are the songs by John Powell and Cinco Paul; they may be appropriate for the material, and they do have moments of catchiness, but don’t expect to be humming any of the tunes as you leave the theater. Such a shame so few composer/lyricist teams have been able to match the Disney song bank, specifically the selections composed by Alan Menken. If you’re not humming “Be Our Guest” when Beauty and the Beast is over, you may want to check your pulse.
The main setting of The Lorax is Thneed-Ville, a walled-off city where everything, including the foliage, is artificial. Even air has to be bottled and sold. The whole city is under the control of an air tycoon named O’Hare (voiced by Rob Riggle), who may be small in stature but is enormous in his greed. We meet a boy named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), who’s smitten by a pretty young woman named Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift). Her dream is to someday see a real live tree. Ted, determined to impress Audrey, goes on a quest to find one. According to his feisty grandmother (voiced by Betty White), the only one who knows about living trees is the Once-Ler, who lives beyond the walls of the city.
And so Ted discreetly breaches the city limits, narrowly avoiding O’Hare’s ever-present surveillance system. After a brief scooter ride through a smoggy, desolate wasteland of tree stumps, Ted locates the ramshackle home of the Once-Ler (voiced by Ed Helms), who lives in solitude and never shows his face. He tells Ted the story of when he was a young, idealistic inventor, of how the surrounding land used to be a lush forest of Seussian trees, and of how his lust for power and wealth led to the forest’s destruction. He also tells him of the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito), a small, grumpy orange creature that guarded the forest. It seems not all hope is lost; the Once-Ler bestows a single tree seedling, the last of its kind, to Ted with the hope that he will take it back to Thneed-Ville and plant it.
O’Hare does not take kindly to this, for he knows that the free production of fresh air would ruin him. This inevitably leads to a chase sequence through the streets of Thneed-Ville, but because the animation and 3D were in such perfect harmony, I found that I didn’t much care about overused story conventions. Ted will not only have to be quicker than O’Hare but smarter as well, for the people are not yet aware of his controlling ways. Can Ted save the day? You will, of course, know the answer by the end of the movie, although I don’t think the action is as important as the subtext. That will definitely prevent certain people from responding to Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, a fact I find troubling. Why is it some of us are unwilling to see reason in matters that are so clearly defined?
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