It’s a thneed: a utilitarian As-Seen-on-TV squeegee of shape-shifting proportions! This sweater-like fabric reconfigures to fit all your fantastical needs! Wear it as a fitted glove! Twist it into a knitted purse! Plop it over your head like a curious hat! Flop, drop, mop it on the floor–voila!–an insta-carpet! EVERYBODY THNEEDS A THNEED, STUPID!
In Ted Geisel’s environmentally sound children’s classic, the tongue-twisting product is a profitable smash that comes with a disastrous price tag: The corporate leveling of the entire Truffula Valley and its Truffula trees, their feathery tufts greedily plucked to sustain this consumerist rage.
Ironically enough, it’s these same principles that also afflict the convoluted, watered-down version that is this CGI reinterpretation, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. The animation pops like a three-ring circus and is as whimsical as cotton candy, but it’s a broad movie that unfortunately tries to oblige everybody. That busyness strips the story of its sincerely simple landscape and in the assembly line process pleases but a few.
As with any book-to-silver-screen animal, it takes its own liberties. Here, itʻs this completely manufactured introductory premise: Ted (voice of Zac Efron) has a schoolboy crush on Audrey (a brand-new character, voice of Taylor Swift), who longs for a real-life oxygen-emitting tree. Wanting to impress her, Ted ventures out of Thneed-ville’s flora-less suburban existence to find the tree she longs for in order to win the girl-next-door’s heart.
Beyond their suffocated-by-steel city, Ted meets the Once-ler (voice of Ed Helms), who relays to him a backstory of that aforementioned thneed which explains what happened to all the Truffulas. It’s in the Once-ler’s recountal we meet the titular Lorax (voice of Danny DeVito), a mustachioed furball who speaks for the trees . . . with a bossy New Jersey swag.
DeVito’s an odd choice, but inspired; his brazenness downplays a degree of the character’s built-in preachy “March of the Loraxes” tone. He’s surprisingly easy on the ears. Another new character is Aloysius O’Hare (voice of Rob Riggle), a Big Brother Orwellian bowl cut of a man who purposely smogs the city so he can make a fortune selling its citizens bottled air.
These aren’t offensive changes at all. They’re needed to embellish the book’s 72 pages to the length of a feature film, but they also inflate The Lorax with its own sludge of climate change issues, tonally. By polluting it with dated pop culture jokes, wink-wink postmodern references and underwhelming original songs, it’s an adaptation that appears to produce beyond its means, which is–whoopsies!–the whole message of the movie. Fortunately, its eco-essence is still there, buried under all these distracting touches, but fans of the perennial tree-hugging source material will feel slighted. Unlike Pixar’s Wall-E–the current green standard for save-the-planet fables–The Lorax doesn’t trust the demographic market’s patience or imagination. It just won’t let this audience breathe.
And then, finally, there’s the dirty off-screen disconnect with the film’s flagrant marketing: cross-promotional tie-ins with IHOP and gas-powered SUVs. Horton, do you hear that? No, it’s not Dr. Seuss rolling in his grave . . . it’s the sound of a Mazda car dealership being built right over it. If the Lorax is speaking for the trees, what corporate suit at Universal Pictures is speaking for this movie?