Since the dawn of recorded time, children’s stories have commonly taken the form of parables. If you want children to tell the truth, treat beggars fairly and understand the value of good grooming — why not teach them with a story? In the 50s and 60s, Theodore Geisel became the world’s most popular children’s author, penning a number of bestsellers under his pen name, Dr Seuss. All of his books are unashamedly silly, but nearly every one of them came packaged with a moral. Green Eggs and Ham was about the importance of keeping an open mind; The Sneetches was a transparent story about racial divides and The Cat in the Hat was of course about the dangers of letting hobos into your life.
In Dr Seuss’ The Lorax –a story that has been now been adapted into a hit film— Seuss tells a story about industrial ambition and greed, weaving in an environmental message that is pretty sophisticated for such a young readership. While this film adaptation seems to have disposed with much of Seuss’ flair for language, it’s kept his message pretty intact.
A lonely hermit called the Once-ler (Ed Helms from The Hangover) lives in a barren wasteland that he once created by exploiting the environment for financial gain. When Ted (Zac Efron), a young boy from the nearby town comes to find out what happened to all the trees, the Once-ler recounts his story of short-sighted greed. The film flashes back to relay his past, when he was still a bright-eyed entrepreneur, haphazardly felling trees and coming up against the self-proclaimed ‘Guardian of the Trees’, the titular Lorax (Danny DeVito). Tiny, gruff and bossy: DeVito must have seemed like the only logical casting choice.
In some of the film best sequences, we see Ted’s home and get a glimpse of the city he now lives in. It’s a walled city where absolutely everything is artificial: suburban homes are now lined with inflatable rubber bushes. Instead of leaves, the fake trees have flashing lights that can be adjusted to ‘summer mode’ or ‘winter mode’. Thanks to the extinction of trees and the unchecked industrial pollution, everyone also buys bottled air, produced by the city’s greedy Mayor. It almost feels like an alternative dystopian version of the human spaceship from Wall-E. Everything is tailored around convenience, with little concession to sustainability and no absolutely no regard to the corrosion of the human race.
In an effort to pad out Dr Seuss’ 45-page jumbo print book into a 90 minute movie, The Lorax’s writers and director have liberally sprinkled the film with musical numbers. While we’re not normally averse to cartoon musicals, the instantly forgettable songs never really ‘land’. They sound less like Sondheim showstoppers and more like the debut singles from X-Factor runners up.
The songs may be a bit of a disappointment but there’s still plenty of family-friend fodder. The Once-ler engages in some funny business with the ridiculously cute bears that inhabit the forest; the Seuss-heavy visual elements are delightful; and all the boxes are ticked with the thrills-and-spills chase at the end (even if it’s uncannily similar to the last 10 minutes of Wall-E). As we mentioned before, much of Seuss’ charm didn’t quite make the journey from page to screen, but his fable of corporate greed and environmental protection still abides. Besides, anything so irrationally vilified by US fear-mongers Fox News must really be onto something.