So another of one of Dr Seuss’ famously wacky stories has found its way onto the silver screen. This time it’s the turn of the Lorax, a small, podgy orange creature with a moustache that would put General Melchett to shame. He is the guardian of the forest, a forest that, in true Dr Seuss style, has Truffula Trees sprouting fluff and is inhabited by singing fish, dopy ducks and unbearably cute bears.
At the start of this film, however, this forest no longer exists because it was all cut down by someone called the Once-ler, a strange, recluse who lives outside of town in the ruinous wasteland he created. Our main protagonist is, in fact, a 12 year-old boy called Ted, played by Zac Efron (who is actually quite good now that you can’t see his ceaselessly happy face!). Ted lives in the city of Thneed-ville, a city run by the ludicrously diminutive Aloysius O’Hare, a villain not included in the original books, who exudes very little real menace but plenty of smarm. He’s pretty much runs Thneed-ville, selling clean air to the people. The reason why there’s no natural clean air is because all the trees have gone.
Ted, to win the heart of fair maiden Amy (why else?), leaves the city and tracks down the Once-ler and find out how he can bring the girl of his dreams her sole desire: a real tree. And so begins the story within a story as the Once-ler explains how he was once a squeaky-clean, likeable young man with a dream to follow and a fortune to make through his invention, the Thneed. Unfortunately, to make this fortune he needs to cut down the Trufulla Trees, which brings the gloriously moustachioed Lorax out of a tree stump to chastise him.
The Lorax is voiced by Danny DeVito, which meant that whenever I heard him I couldn’t get Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Taxi out of my head. Despite this rather weird scenario, DeVito does make the part work as he brings the Lorax’s endearing grouchiness to the screen. His conflict with the Once-ler is childishly amusing. The Once-ler’s story ends and he gives Ted the last Trufulla seed to plant in the heart of Thneedville. And so begins the great struggle to plant the tree, crush O’Hare’s exploitative business empire and save Thneedville.
Essentially this is a cautionary tale about the damaging effects of rampant capitalism as the Once-ler and his unpleasant family (who join him the moment he’s a success) blindly destroy the forest that not only provides them with the materials they need for their Thneeds but also replaces clean air that their manufacturing industry is destroying.
I really did enjoy this film, although it lacked that charming and very Seussite (?) tradition of rhyming almost everything. The songs were rumbustious numbers and it was filled with colour and excellently used 3D effects. The minor parts had plenty of character and there were plenty of jokes for kids and parents. It is a children’s film but its message is very much directed at the parents as well: Look after the bloody planet, dummies!