With the voices of Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White. Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. Directed by Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda. Rated PG (for brief mild language). 94 minutes.
Building on Dr. Seuss’s parable, THE LORAX manages to take a pro-conservation story that was controversial and make it even more so. Those favoring government regulation of business vis-à-vis the environment will find it entertaining and endearing, if a bit heavy-handed. Those who think FOX News is “fair and balanced” will see their blood pressure rise as business is portrayed as greedy and exploitive, focusing solely on increasing their own wealth at the expense of everyone else.
Ted (voice of Zac Efron) is a young lad in Thneedville, where everything is made of plastic and, as the opening production number tells us, everyone likes it that way. However Audrey (Taylor Swift), the girl Ted has a crush on, is on the arty side and has painted a mural of the trees that once grew freely around them. Ted’s grandmother (Betty White) tells him that if he wants to help Audrey get a tree, he should seek out the One-sler (Ed Helms), who lives outside of town.
Ted heads out to the barren wasteland where the One-sler lives. There the recluse proceeds to tell the tale of how he came to the beautiful forest to make his fortune, and left it devoid of trees and wildlife. He was warned by the diminutive, orange, mustachioed creature known as The Lorax (Danny DeVito), the spokesman for the trees, that he would be cursed if he proceeded, but with the help of his even greedier family, the One-sler lays waste to everything around them. Meanwhile, Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle) – who runs Thneedville and sells the citizenry the pure water and air they need – is afraid that Ted might figure out a way to bring the trees back, putting a dent in his business since trees produce oxygen. It’s not a spoiler to note that, eventually, good triumphs over evil.
While the film is colorful and follows Seuss’s designs, if not strictly adhering to his plot, it is a film that is little more than a propaganda piece for environmentalists. Even those who appreciated former vice president Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” will find themselves squirming at just how blatantly the filmmakers stack the deck. The idea that preservation and corporate profit could co-exist – say, by planting new trees to replace the ones cut down – is never even raised.
Veterans Danny DeVito and Betty White may be the most distinctive members of the voice cast, and if White seems a bit overexposed these days, let’s remember she just turned 90. If you think she should be slowing down, contact her yourself and tell her that, and lots of luck keeping up with her. Efron and Swift are blandly acceptable as the love interest/young heroes. There are a few slow spots, but children should be engaged.
Yet one wishes “The Lorax” was a parable about finding common ground rather than continuing the divisiveness and demonization of one’s opponents that passes for political discourse today. Those who will agree don’t need to be convinced, and those who disagree will find this propaganda cartoon all too easy to dismiss.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.