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Thursday, March 1, 2012 12:03 pm

Colorful Lorax delivers vital, hopeful message

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I realize that there are many who feel that the works of Dr. Seuss are sacrosanct, that to adapt and expand them for the movies will somehow obscure the author’s themes, which separated his works from that of other “children’s” authors. Of course, one look at 2003’s disastrous The Cat in the Hat with Mike Myers is all that’s needed to support this belief. It could be argued that Seuss’ message is nearly overwhelmed by the overwrought production design in 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. No, the writer’s works fare much better as animated features (see 2008’s Horton Hears a Who!) and the latest from Universal, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, is the best of the bunch. Vibrant and vital, the film sports an imaginative visual style that compliments the book while its environmental message is rendered with the necessary sense of urgency as well as a realistic degree of hope.

As with so many endeavors undertaken by young men, the impetus for 12-year-old Ted (voice by Zac Efron) to take on a seemingly impossible quest is a girl, in this case Audrey (Taylor Swift). She’s a dreamer who hopes one day to have a real tree, a wish that’s as likely to come true as the sun rising in the west. You see, the citizens of Theneedville, where Ted and Audrey live, haven’t seen a tree in decades. This burg is a prefab monstrosity as the houses are made of plastic, lawns are pieces of felt and plants are painted. A tree is a distant memory. However, Ted’s grandma (Betty White) does remember them and tells him that all he has to do is track down The Once-ler (Ed Helms), a mysterious creature who lives outside the town.

Upon finding the recluse, Ted is regaled with a cautionary tale of consumerism run amok. Seems that many years ago, the Once-ler was an eager young inventor who was intent to change the world with his all-purpose garment, the Theneed. Problem is, the essential element needed for this cloth construction can only be gotten from the soft tufts of the Truffula Trees in the valley that he travels to. He’s warned by the protector of the trees, the Lorax (Danny DeVito), to leave them be, but greed, the need to please his mother and more than a few false justifications lead the Once-ler to completely deforest the area to tragic results.

In order to get the story to feature film length, screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul add a great many elements to mixed results. A variety of songs are sprinkled throughout to move the story along and two of them are standouts. The first is “How Bad Can I Be?” a rollicking tune that begins as a simple justification by the Once-ler for his company’s irresponsible acts but becomes a grotesque yet accurate portrayal of corporate greed, while the film’s finale, “Let It Grow,” is a heartfelt anthem that will likely inspire viewers to plant a tree as they walk out of the theater.

Less successful is a subplot involving Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), an opportunist who’s made millions by preying on his consumers’ paranoia and gullibility by selling them canned air in their artificial world. While this does fit with the film’s pro-environment slant, it seems forced and is never as convincing as the elements from Seuss’ book.

Still, The Lorax proves to be a winner in the end due in no small part to the striking visuals from directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, whose distinctive style helped make “Despicable Me” such an unexpected delight. Their rendering of Seuss’ tale, as well as the way they bring his characters joyously to life, do the story and its message justice.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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