The work of Dr. Seuss has captured the imaginations of countless children and will continue to do so for generations to come. The same cannot be said for the cinematic adaptations. Universal’s live-action versions of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat are glaring blemishes to the legacy of the good doctor. The early cartoon versions had it right, keep things short and sweet. Seuss only needed ten or fifteen pages and a few sentences (in rhyme) to engage the reader. The filmmakers inject all the usual tropes like romantic subplots to pad the story out to feature length. This leads us to Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, the second of Seuss’s creations to be adapted into a computer animated film. Fox’s Blue Sky Studios previously released Horton Hears a Who! in 2008, but Universal and Illumination Entertainment are ones behind Lorax. Illumination debuted with Despicable Me, one of the best animated films of 2010. They stumbled with the live-action Hop, but don’t get all the way back on track here.
The Lorax begins in Thneed-Ville, a walled community where the citizens live in the lap of luxury and prize their elaborate automobiles and parking lots. Everything is artificial in Thneed-Ville, the trees are battery operated and the flora is inflatable. The Mayor of Thneed-ville, Aloysius O’Hare (Rob Riggle) has become an extremely wealthy man by selling the townsfolk purified air delivered to their homes in bottles ala Arrowhead. Young Ted (Zac Efron) has a crush on the lovely Audrey (Taylor Swift), who yearns for the day when she might see a real, honest-to-goodness tree. Following the advice of his Grammy Norma (Betty White), Ted sneaks outside the walls of Thneed-ville and finds a barren and blackened wasteland. The only person living in the desolation is a strange hermit named the Once-Ler (Ed Helms), who relates his story to Ted.
Looking to make his fortune, the Once-Ler traveled to the lush valley that was teeming with swomee-swans, bar-ba-loots, and humming fish. What really catches the Once-Ler’s eye are the truffula trees, topped with brightly colored tuffs of fur, which he needs to knit Thneeds, a multi-purpose sweater that everyone will need. Felling the first tree summons the Lorax (voiced perfectly by Danny DeVito), a diminutive orange creature with a bushy mustache. Serving as the protector of the forest, the Lorax pleads with the Once-Ler to leave the valley be. The Lorax’s appeal for sanity falls on deaf ears as the Once-Ler builds an ominous factory to mass manufacture Thneeds and chops down every tree. Without trees, he can no longer produce Thneeds and his whole operation shuts down. Worse yet, the land has been rendered uninhabitable by the smog and pollution from the factory. The Once-Ler entrusts the last truffula seed to Ted in the hopes he can return the valley to its former glory. However, O’Hare will do anything to stop Ted from planting something that will give his customers air for free.
Conservative pundits have singled out The Lorax as part of a nebulous left-wing conspiracy to brainwash children into hating corporations and hugging trees. I’m speaking of pundits, specifically from Fox News, which is ironic considering Fox produced In Time, a movie with an overt pro-socialist message. Anyone capable of an iota of rational thought will see The Lorax as a film railing against unchecked excess. It’s not subtle about it either. Not when the Once-Ler has a huge poster of himself emblazoned with the phrase, “Too big to fail.” An opening musical number introduces life in Thneed-ville as the citizens laud their consumerist culture and blissful ignorance. Another number, “How Bad Can I Be?”, sees the Once-Ler justifying his rampant greed and willful disdain of the environment as simple free market Darwinism. The songs themselves were composed by John Powell and co-writer Cinco Paul. They aren’t memorable, but they are catchy and innocuous in a Disney Radio sort of way.
All this talk about liberal agendas overlooks the fact that The Lorax was produced by a major corporation in the most corporate of ways. The script rings hollow and feels like it was run through a wringer of focus groups right down to the casting of Teen Choice Award winners Zac Efron and Taylor Swift, plus Betty White as the sassy, snowboarding octogenarian. Also, I highly doubt Dr. Seuss ever envisioned the Lorax as a shill for General Electric, Mazda SUVs, and IHOP pancake combos.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is reference quality with an absolutely stunning presentation. The candy colored truffula valley comes off well, especially the yellows and oranges. It’s hard not to notice fine details such as the textured fur of the bar-ba-loots.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is equally excellent though it doesn’t pack the wallop of a blockbuster action film. The musical numbers are crystal clear and booming while effects like Ted’s scooter travels from channel to channel. The third act chase scene is an especially fun listen.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary track with co-directors Chris Renaud & Kyle Balda. The participants discuss adapting the source material, additions that were made, casting, and the picture’s central themes.
There are three mini-movies that expand the story of The Lorax. Wagon Ho! (3:10) follows the misadventure of a pair of bar-ba-loots and the Once-Ler’s wagon, Forces of Nature (2:14) sees the Lorax attempting to scare the Once-Ler away, and love is in the air with Serenade (3:19) with two bar-ba-loots vying for the affections of a female. There’s also a Making of the Mini-Movies (3:31) featurette.
O’Hare TV is a viewing option with pop-up ads for O’Hare Air.
Expedition to Truffula Valley is an overly complicated interactive menu that accesses storyboard art, animatics, and video featurettes, including chunks of the Seuss It Up drawing tutorial available on the DVD.
Seuss to Screen (4:27) features interviews with the cast and crew as they discuss translating the original story to the big screen.
Rounding out the bonus material is the Let It Grow Sing-Along, a deleted scene involving the thneeds, and three games (The Once-Ler’s Wagon, Get Out of Town, Truffula Run). There’s also an interactive extra that allows you to plant a truffula seed and check in on it while exploring the Blu-ray.
Released as a combo pack, the Blu-ray also includes a DVD and Digital Copy versions.
Film Value: 6
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better…it’s not.”
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax doesn’t come close to competing with Pixar. It’s more diverting than thought provoking. The movie may not convince kids to plant a tree, but it will entertain them long enough with loud noises and bright shiny things.