By Michael Phillips 2016-04-29

Tribune Newspapers Critic

2 stars

The new animated feature "The Lorax," known in its entirety as "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" to keep it straight from "John Grisham's The Lorax," does a few smaller things right but the bigger things not quite. I've come to fear these movies. I love Seuss so much, even his second-shelf works. Who doesn't feel protective of authors and illustrators they love? And not just because we were young when we made their acquaintance.

As with "Horton Hears a Who!" four years ago, the production design and computer-generated animation in this new "Lorax" respect the basic lines of Theodor Seuss Geisel's illustrations, his voluptuously curvy universe of serious whimsy. Both the "Horton" and "Lorax" films work better, certainly, than the live-action Seuss pictures "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and the seriously not-good "Cat in the Hat."

"The Lorax" is a little more like it. A little. But you couldn't accuse the film of practicing what it preaches: careful stewardship of a precious resource.

The message tends to get lost in all the clanging slapstick and "Wall-E" imagery. "Wall-E" had the courage of its convictions as well as beauty and artistry; "The Lorax" is just another OK feature-length animated edition (in 3-D, if you choose to pay for it) of a Dr. Seuss book.

The filmmakers, headed by director Chris Renaud and screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, all of "Despicable Me," regard the 1971 Seuss book's pro-environmentalist entreaties seriously in theory, not so much in practice. Cooked-up elements include a corporate megalomaniac villain and a pair of nominally sympathetic young humans. The Lorax in "The Lorax," the guardian of the trees voiced, dully, by Danny DeVito, is even more secondary than he was in the book.

In this version of Thneedville, no living thing grows: Trees and shrubs are inflatable plastic, the town is maintained with "Truman Show"-like fakery and the apparent mayor of the town, Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle), has made his millions selling bottled air. Young Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) is eager to impress the teenage Audrey (Taylor Swift), so he seeks out the faraway Once-ler (Ed Helms) who holds the secret to what Audrey wants most: a living tree, a reminder of better, greener days.

Most of the picture, as did the book, unfolds as a flashback to the Once-ler's rabid capitalistic youth, when he harvested the precious Truffula tree for its velvety tufts and commercial prospects. Taking its cue from a single line in the original about the Once-ler's family, "The Lorax" brings in a venal hick crowd straight out of"Million Dollar Baby" to underscore the moral about greed being bad. The young Once-ler doesn't question his own business goals, and can't see the forest of his misjudgments for all the trees he's leveling.

A good deal of this comes from the original slim volume by Seuss. By the time the good doctor published his warning about despoiling our planet willy-nilly (cue the Fox News objections!), his adopted home base, La Jolla, Calif., had become a swank coastal holdout to the schmutzy LA smog a two-hour drive north. Every book comes from somewhere; Seuss', I'm guessing, came from his concern over the threatened devaluation of paradise, Southern California style.

The book, unusually blunt and even humorless for Seuss, has become a conflicted diversionary tactic on screen. Its makers were plainly nervous about selling the message. And so they gussy it up with lots of vehicular chase sequences and musical numbers of uneven quality and after a while you long for another trip to see the Once-ler, just because he's a loner and you could use the break. "The Lorax," comes back around by the end to where it needs to be, i.e., in Seuss' corner. But there's a lyric about life in Thneedville painting the place as "plastic and fake and they liked it that way!" And it's too close to the movie's truth for actual moviegoing comfort.

MPAA rating: PG (for brief mild language).

Running time: 1:34.

Voice Cast: Danny DeVito (The Lorax); Zac Efron (Ted); Taylor Swift (Audrey); Ed Helms (The Once-ler); Betty White (Grammy Norma).

Credits: Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda; written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, based on the book "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," by Dr. Seuss; produced by Christopher Meledandri and Janet Healy. A Universal Pictures release.

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

"Flight of the Navigator" star charged with bank robberyMan who starred in the '80s Disney film "Flight of the Navigator," as a child has been charged with bank robbery
The Associated Press1 hour ago
FILE - In this April 22, 2013 file photo, Sumner Redstone arrives at the LA Premiere of "Pain and Gain" in New York. A judge ruled on Monday, May 2, 2016, that Sumner Redstone should give 30 minutes of videotaped, sworn testimony in a case about the ailing media mogul's mental capacity that was filed by Redstone's ex-girlfriend and longtime companion, Manuela Herzer. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File)
Trial to examine mind and decisions of mogul Sumner RedstoneIllness has robbed Sumner Redstone of his voice, but a trial scheduled to begin Friday will determine whether the ailing media mogul remains competent enough to make key decisions about his life
The Associated Press1 hour ago
FILE - In this June 25, 2015, file photo Channing Tatum arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of "Magic Mike XXL" at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Tatum announced on May 4, 2016, that he would direct a live Las Vegas male strip show based on the "Magic Mike" movies. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Channing Tatum is bringing his 'Magic Mike' act to Las VegasChanning Tatum is bringing his "Magic Mike" act to Las Vegas
The Associated Press1 hour ago
This image released by Disney shows Chadwick Boseman as Panther in a scene from "Marvel's Captain America: Civil War." (Disney Marvel via AP)
Chadwick Boseman continues superhero streak as Black PantherChadwick Boseman joins the Marvel universe as Black Panther in "Captain America: Civil War," but this isn't his first time playing a superhero
The Associated Press3 hours ago
This image released by Fox Searchlight shows Dakota Johnson in a scene from "A Bigger Splash."  (Jack English/Fox Searchlight via AP)
Review: Fiennes, Swinton simmer and boil in 'Bigger Splash'Ralph Fiennes is a tightly wired marvel and Tilda Swinton her usual compulsively watchable self in 'A Bigger Splash,' director Luca Guadagnino's absorbing yet ultimately uneven reworking of the French classic 'La Piscine.'
The Associated Press4 hours ago
Movie News