How can one make environmentalism smarmy and unappetising? Well, 'The Lorax' has done it. Despite the bad reviews I read months ago when I first heard about this film adaptation, I was inexplicably optimistic.
The 1972 children's book of the same name by Dr. Seuss was such a seminal influence on children of that generation that there was a part of me that was desperately hoping that the filmmakers had not ruined what was beautiful about the book.
To be fair, there was a lot going for this film. The line-up of stars providing the voices was really impressive. Betty White and Ed Helms play the grandmother and the
Once-ler respectively, and they both shine convincingly in their roles. The younger generation of actors in this movie are even bigger draws at the box office. Zac Efron plays Ted, the boy who desperately wants to see a real tree, and Taylor Swift plays Audrey, the girl he wants to impress with said tree.
The story is set in a time when there are no more organic trees. One of the funnier moments in the early part of the film is Ted's mother explaining that these interactive trees are so much better than those old, dirty biological kind. She shows him the tree's setting for each season of the year, and after going through them she sets the tree to its disco setting. This is a perfect example of something that might delight young children at the spectacle of it, and older viewers at its quirky preposterousness.
Probably the best thing about The Lorax is Danny DeVito playing the title character. He has been plastered all over the German press this last week, because in addition to the English version, he did his own voice dubbing for four other languages including the German version. As I read about DeVito's experience learning his German lines phonetically, I was reminded of the "The German Episodes" made by the members of Monty Python while filming at the Bavaria Studios south of Munich back in the early 1970s.
The plot crescendos towards a musical number at the end that is catchy and compelling. In that build up, there is slapstick humour and even a car chase; both of which appear to be boxes that were ticked by the producers to please moviegoer demographics. Ultimately, that is exactly what is wrong with The Lorax. The story is still a polemic about saving the trees, and it features both the Lorax as the quirky, environmental warrior and the greedy business executive in the form of the Once-ler. Despite all of these integral parts, there continues to be something missing in this endeavour, and that thing just might be the story's heart.