*** (out of four)
Nice and easily enjoyable for kids and ex-kids, “The Lorax” promotes the importance of caring about something other than yourself or gifts. Considering the latter frequently feels like the target of most children’s movies (particularly around the holidays), “The Lorax” and its proactive, pro-environmental message feel like a breath of fresh, fluffy air.
In this bright, brief take onDr. Seuss’ 1971 book, the town of Thneedville runs on artifice and ignorance as the townspeople begin the movie singing about their preference not to know where the smog and trash go. All food consists of gelatin, and the trees require batteries.
So when the girl (voiced by Taylor Swift) of his dreams says she’d marry any guy who could show her a real tree, 12-year-old Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) discovers his purpose. He’s motivated less by a love of the earth than his love of this wise, beautiful older high school girl.
Co-directed by Chris Renaud (the inferior “Despicable Me”), “The Lorax” loses bounce as it jumps back and forth between Ted’s mission and a flashback in which The Once-ler (a delightful Ed Helms) explains how Thneedville became the complete opposite of green. This happened despite the presence of the Lorax, the mustachioed forest guardian who looks like Sam Elliott if he had been turned into a furry sweet potato.
The Lorax’s voice comes from Danny DeVito, suggesting a sense of humor on the casting department to ask the diminutive actor to play a small, vegetable-shaped crank, albeit with a good heart. Obviously DeVito has a sense of humor, too, which is why he took the part to make the Lorax a stern force for good and not, for example, an unbearable pest like Mike Myers’ “Cat in the Hat.”
The movie, which also benefits from the straightforward agenda of the villainous air salesman Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), would be even cleaner without some of its comedic lunges—like Ted’s mom (Jenny Slate) dancing to a tree’s disco ball or a group of fish singing the “Mission: Impossible” theme song. Yet 2008’s “Horton Hears a Who!” didn’t have the energy or the sweetness of this brightly colored world in which trees resemble cotton candy and all the songs should inspire tapping from feet of any age.
On that note: “The Lorax” is nothing if not brutally honest when pulling the rug out from under a celebratory song, as cute little bears stop singing joyously when they realize what’s happening to their home. The uplifting lesson is that a smart, engaged society can pass its tipping point and band together to tip back on track.
“That’s not just a seed,” The Once-ler tells Ted, “any more than you’re just a boy.”
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