Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White
Written by: Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul, based on the book by Dr. Seuss
Directed by: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language
Running Time: 94
Date: 03/18/2013

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Trees of Life

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For decades, the works of children's author Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, were adapted to cartoons, short films, and TV specials. Their concise size and specific rhythms seemed to resist the long form. Except one original feature screenplay written by Seuss -- The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) -- the first attempt to bring one of his stories to the big screen was the soulless, callous How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). Then came The Cat in the Hat (2003), which could well be the worst movie produced in the last decade. 

Time passed, and some brave souls tried again. Happily, Horton Hears a Who! (2008) worked beautifully. This time the filmmakers seemed to understand the themes of the book, expanding upon them, rather than simply padding the story out to feature length. Now comes The Lorax, based on the 1971 book, and it's another happy success. It does have some slightly diverging musical numbers and chase scenes, but these still remain true to the story's spirit. 

In the book, the "Once-Ler" (whose face is never seen) begins chopping down the beautiful Truffula trees to make "thneeds." A forest spirit, the Lorax, appears to protest, but the thneeds sell like hotcakes, and the Once-Ler continues chopping. When the trees all die, his business dies too. 

Now the movie expands the story to the character of Ted (voiced by Zac Efron). He lives in Thneedville, a plastic place where people buy bottles of clean air, sold by corporate scoundrel Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle). On a mission to impress a pretty redhead, Audrey (Taylor Swift), he sets out to learn about the trees that once grew nearby. He meets the Once-Ler (Ed Helms), and we flash back to the story of the Lorax (Danny DeVito), now more slapsticky than the book, but with the same idea. Of course, O'Hare uses all his power to keep any pesky trees -- which (gasp!) generate air for free -- out of the city. 

 Writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul nicely incorporate Seuss' original text into dialogue and songs throughout the movie, and their new material is fitfully funny without being needlessly vulgar. Co-directors Chris Renaud ("Despicable Me") and Kyle Balda create effective textures and designs: the plastic feels plastic, but the trees feel refreshing. Even if it's a little too frenetic, The Lorax, with its themes of corporate greed and environmental destruction, still feels amazingly timely, perhaps more so now than when the visionary Seuss conceived it.
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