The Lorax: A review you thneed to read

I think it must be especially challenging to take a beloved book and translate it to film. I think it must be an even a greater undertaking to adapt a highly praised and cherished children’s book that is shorter than a novella (to say the least) into an 86 minute 3D feature. That is to say, I give the creators of 2012’s “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” credit for their ambition.

The Lorax is based upon Dr. Seuss’ fictional story of a young boy who inhabits a very bleak and polluted world. Curious about the history of the earth, the boy learns of someone called ‘The Once-Ler’ who can remember the world before it was a wasteland – when it was vibrant, happy, full of life…and trees. Subsequently, the boy seeks out the enigmatic creature and asks to hear his tale.

The Once-Ler tells the boy of the demise of the once beautiful world they both inhabit. According to the Once-Ler, the earth used to be an enchanting place, filled with sparkling water, singing fish, colorful plants, playful animals, and beautiful ‘Truffula’ trees. To the young Once-Ler, however, this world was nothing more than a cheap resource for his budding “Thneed” company. In an effort to mass produce Truffula-tuft “thneeds”(a product the Once-Ler successfully marketed as ‘something everyone needs’), the Once-Ler begins chopping down the colorful trees, only to be met by a mystical guardian of nature named, ‘The Lorax’.

According to the Once-Ler, ‘The Lorax’ spoke on behalf of the trees and animals and tried again and again to warn the Once-Ler of the deadly impact his greed and pollution producing Thneed factories had on the surrounding environment. Sadly, it wasn’t until the last Truffula tree fell that the Once-Ler realized that his egotism and greed ruined the environment and himself.

The Once-Ler ends his story by giving the boy the last Truffula tree seed and tells him that what the world so desperately needs is someone who cares enough to make a positive change.

As a child, the book, The Lorax struck a chord with me, as I believe it does with most children. It is beautifully written in classical Seuss prose and whimsically illustrated with the Seuss style of creatures and colors the world has come to know and love. But what makes the book stand out isn’t the writing or the illustrations, its the message. Seuss dared to show children the connection between their actions (and the actions of others) and nature. By fleshing out the cause and effect relationship between the Once-Ler’s expanding Thneed business and the destruction of the surrounding environment (the book details the progression of pollution and the effects it has on the water, air, land and animals), Seuss informed children of the delicate balance that exists between themselves and the planet, and showed them just how much their actions matter.

The book ends tragically (rare for children’s books), but with a glimmer of hope. I remember feeling sad that such a fantastic and happy world had been destroyed, but felt empowered that because I cared, I could make a difference (I remember helping my mom water plants, and to this day hold seeds and trees in high regard). The Lorax is both a warning and a call to action, a rare blend in the Children’s genre, and a message that still holds true today.

In my opinion The Lorax is a literary treasure whose film counterpart falls short. Although it is impossible for me to hide my disappointment, the movie is not all bad, thus, I would like to begin with some of the films many positive attributes;

First, I had the pleasure of seeing the film in 3D. Unlike many movies that are being rereleased in 3D or slap on the 3D technology in hopes to boost revenue, The Lorax utilizes 3D beautifully. The film is as bright and whimsical as Seuss’s book and successfully transports audiences into the magical world that the Dr. first illustrated.

Second, the film has great voices. Danny DeVito makes for a convincing Lorax, while Ed Helms makes the Once-Ler relatable. Other notable performances include Betty White who plays grandma Norma, Zac Efron as Ted (the young boy who visits the Once-Ler) and Taylor Swift as Audrey (Ted’s love interest). The film was well cast, and the voice acting well executed.

Third, it’s creative. Again, I have to give credit to the writers for generating a full-length feature story, complete with multi-dimensional characters and a sub-plot line.

Unfortunately, the new plot additions, large cast, and amazing graphics detract from what I believe was the book’s biggest asset; teaching children that their actions matter – that they exist within a greater environment then their home, neighborhood and town. That caring and doing can make a positive impact, while blindly succumbing to desires can cloud judgement and lead to the destruction of nature and oneself. The film chooses to trump these messages with lengthy needless action sequences (to highlight the use of 3D), catchy, but unnecessary songs, and a single scene that hammers the point that bottom-line greedy corporations can destroy the earth – a truthful message, but one that circumvents individual responsibility and empowerment.

Even more unfortunate is the film’s upbeat, song and dance ending, where the devastation is seemingly forgotten, replaced by the ‘simple’ solution of merely planting trees in order to restore paradise. In short, the film is hardly inspiring as it all seems destined to all work out in the end anyway.

In summary, I found Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax disappointing, especially when crafted from such a masterful source. For a children’s film with a poignant, touching, and inspiring message about the relationship between individuals, society and nature, see Wall-E.

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