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'The Lorax' Is A Mixed Bag

'The Lorax' Is A Mixed Bag
3/2/2012 4:41 PM ET

Even though "The Lorax" is mostly good clean fun, it's no longer enough to simply dazzle with animation and hope that the original material is strong enough to impart deep wisdom. Based on the seminal Dr. Seuss book, "The Lorax" has its heart in the right place and can be pretty funny, but it doesn't completely work as entertainment for all ages the way the best animated films seem to do these days. We're left with a good story for kids and a fairly entertaining movie, though one that doesn't quite live up to its potential.

Living in Thneed-Ville looks like it would be fun, but the fun has its limitations for the idealistic Ted (Zac Efron), a 12-year-old boy who would do just about anything for a chance with his dream girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift). While most of the townspeople are pleasant and happy enough to go on living in the plastic world of Thneed-Ville, Audrey and Ted fantasize about seeing a living tree, something that no longer exists in the completely artificial town. Thneed-Ville is in need of a hero.

Luckily for Ted, he's not alone in wanting to embrace a little bit of nature. After meeting the enigmatic Once-ler (Ed Helms), Ted finds out that there was once a great forest that dwarfed the artificial Thneed-Ville in beauty. Since the deforestation of the Truffula Forest, Thneed-Ville has been completely separated from the outside world and its citizens have lost touch with anything beyond their town, which sounds an awful like the plot from "The Village." Apparently M. Night Shyamalan is a Dr. Seuss fan.

The tragedy of its forest's depletion has left Once-ler somewhat broken, just an old man longing for the recovery of the natural world. But in Ted, Once-ler sees a chance at redemption and sends him off to find the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a cantankerous little orange creature that knows all sorts of things that nobody else in Ted's world happens to know. Though it all started as just a ploy to get in the good graces of his hopeful sweetheart, Ted begins to see the absurdity of his artificial world and tries to use the guidance of Once-ler and the Lorax to change the tide in Thneed-Ville.

Of course, it's not all that simple, as there are dark forces at work, most notably the rich and pragmatic Mayor O'Hare (Rob Riggle), a man who has profited greatly off of the manufactured world and would like to keep the well-oiled machine churning. As Ted starts to make his move to restore nature to Thneed-Ville, he is opposed by not only the mayor but his company O'Hare Air, which supplies fresh air so citizens don't have any need to leave town.

As far as hero vs. villain goes, though, "The Lorax" mostly feels routine, which limits the philosophical messages that the film is trying to send. Ted and Audrey have a nice little story together, but it deals mostly with romantic elements that we've seen countless times before. Though the cinematic landscapes are created with great care and detail, the world of Dr. Seuss is about more than visuals, and "The Lorax" has a hard time maintaining the Dr. Seuss wit and philosophy throughout the entire 95 minutes. Compared even with the clever and well-made "Horton Hears a Who" from a few years back, "The Lorax" ends up being fairly thin soup in comparison.

One thing the movie definitely gets right is casting Danny DeVito, someone we can probably even imagine playing the tiny Lorax in a live-action film. Zac Efron and Taylor Swift could easily be switched out without losing any sleep over it, but the crux of the story relies on the philosophy of the Lorax, and DeVito and the screenplay at least find the right tone for tough love.

With its unabashedly pro-environment message, "The Lorax" can easily be linked with Pixar's "Wall-E," another movie heavily attacked by conservative pundits for being overtly eco-friendly. The difference is that "Wall-E" has such a rich, emotive first half that the story is supplemented by the environmental message instead of relying upon it. "The Lorax" is in no way offensive, unless you're Lou Dobbs apparently, but it's easier to attack than a movie like "Wall-E" because it's nowhere near as well written or executed. If we cared as much about Ted as we did about Pixar's robot, the eco-friendly message of "The Lorax" would have been much more seamless and resonant.

15 years ago, a movie like "The Lorax" would have felt more groundbreaking and original than it does today, thanks in no small part to the many masterstrokes we've seen in the computer animation explosion. Animation studio Illumination Entertainment has created an eye-popping visual world that Dr. Seuss would have been proud of, but the story occasionally feels like a short film stretched into a feature. "The Lorax" has its heart in the right place, but it just doesn't get us to care about the trees of Thneed-Ville as much as it wants us to.

by RTT Staff Writer

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