The missions of The Lorax

The Lorax film is based on the Doctor Seuss fantasy poem book by the same name.

It tells the tale of the Once-ler, who invented the Thneed (which everyone needs), and through his industrialism, destroyed a beautiful forest to the great disappointment of its defender, The Lorax (who speaks for the trees).

The actual story from the book only occupies a very small space. The film takes its time with the exposition, but the bulk of what The Lorax is about occurs entirely within a three minute musical montage.

The rest of the film is a manufactured frame for this theme, which arrives at the mid-point of the film and is somewhat surprising. The song and montage is perhaps the best, most entertaining, on-message part of the film, but the rest is also great fun.

The message loses focus perhaps because of the time distortion between the original book and today. The lesson of The Lorax – deforestation will someday leave us with sterile cities nestled in vast wastelands of tree stumps – is still there in that mid-point montage, but that’s the only place it resides clearly.

The filmmakers, perhaps assuming that modern audiences don’t necessarily care about deforestation anymore – it was a hot-button issue in the 70’s when the poem was written – have pushed it into the background for the majority of the film, which can’t decide if it’s a farce of corporate oversight, a parody of the bottled water industry, a comment on environmental protection, or a criticism of the 1%. This oscillation weakens the film’s mission, but not its entertainment value.

The songs are all clever and seem like they’d be fun to sing along with. They are interspersed throughout the film with a certain tongue-in cheek, fourth-wall breaking that has become common in comedy musicals. Thneedville and How Bad can I be? – that midpoint montage – are both particularly good. Surprisingly, Taylor Swift, who voices the female lead in the film, doesn’t sing at all, unlike the rest of the cast who can nearly all be heard on the sound track somewhere, and especially Ed Helms who leads more than half the songs.

Swift’s performance as a voice actor, however, is surprisingly well wrought – you know… for a singer. In fact, all of the character voices are great performances with Zac Effron and Danny DeVito giving performances worthy of awards.

The animation style is crisp and bright, reminding me very much of the recent Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. At the same time, the creatures, characters, and landscapes are clearly reminiscent of Doctor Seuss’ own illustrations.

Overall, the film is a lot of fun, and though a bit awkward in message – and perhaps because of it – avoids becoming preachy. Check it out. If you like 3D, this would be a good one to pay the upcharge for.

The Lorax is in theaters now.