Dr Seuss's eco message gets lost in its new environment in The Lorax



00:45 GMT, 27 July 2012


Verdict: Fun, but only for children

Dr Seuss’s 1971 cautionary tale about the environment finally reaches the big screen. Well, kind of.

Readers of the original will notice that its content is stuffed into three flashbacks, while most of the running time is devoted to a new framing device.

The hero of the film is teenager Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), who lives in a plastic city where even trees are synthetic.

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Charmless creature: The Lorax - a lurid orange animal, voiced by Danny DeVito

Charmless creature: The Lorax – a lurid orange animal, voiced by Danny DeVito

Ted doesn’t have an ounce of ecological awareness, but the girl he wants to impress, Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift and looking like her), has this thing about real trees. She says she’ll kiss any boy who brings her one.

So Ted rides out of the town, where he meets a reclusive, erstwhile capitalist called The Once-ler (Ed Helms). Unlike most industrialists, who scarper once they’ve wrecked the environment, he chooses to live in the wasteland created by his pollution.

The Once-ler tells Ted the story of his life — punctuated by terrible songs — and tells him about the Lorax, a lurid orange creature with a hectoring manner who used to ‘speak for the trees’. Voiced by Danny DeVito, he’s a charmless eco-freak.

In the original Seuss story, he was the moral centre. In the film, he’s a tedious pain, like a spray-tanned Al Gore.

And while we’re on the subject of pains, there’s a second capitalist villain created for the film. He’s called O’Hare (Rob Riggle). His aim is to stop Ted getting that tree, as O’Hare manufactures bottled air and can’t stand anything that doesn’t make him a profit.

As an attack on Western capitalism, it’s crude stuff. The whole thing posits a polarity that is fake, telling children the choice is between industrial progress and nature. You can’t have both.

I’m still waiting for the children’s film that points out how much capitalism has helped the environment and vastly improved our quality of life.

The Lorax itself is, of course, a product of capitalism. The film has at least 70 promotional sponsors, including one firm that is trying to use the Lorax to promote a new 4×4 car.

The picture does capture some of the worst aspects of capitalism, but not in the way it intends. The film-makers’ approach to Dr Seuss’s story is to sacrifice its simplicity, elegance and charm. Who needs those old things, right

No, the way to cash in on the Lorax brand name is to make it bigger, flashier and pad it out with politically correct lecturing and redundant characters that might sell well as toys.

The result is a film that’s fatally lacking in humanity, and looks as flashy, plastic and commercialised as the world Dr Seuss condemned. This is unlikely to worry small children, but may strike thinking grown-ups as ironic.

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