Dr. Seuss. Well, someone has to, because Illumination Entertainment and Universal Studios, creators of the new movie The Lorax (March 2012; PG), certainly don’t. The basic elements of Dr. Seuss’s classic tale remain: there’s a Lorax, for example, and sure, he speaks for the trees. The Once-ler is there, and he did cut down truffula trees for ubiquitous “thneeds” long ago. And eventually, as in the 1971 book, the Once-ler intones, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Yet somehow, these few pieces fail to add up to anything resembling the sum of their parts in the book. Instead of greed, the Once-ler is motivated by the wish to please his difficult mother. He is remorseful: he plants a seed and, in the final moments, actually hugs the Lorax apologetically and all is forgiven. Protagonist Ted and his gratuitous love interest, Audrey (perhaps the only real nod to Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, and his wife Audrey), must protect the one remaining truffula seed through a series of slapstick-ish capers that borrow the idea from Wall-E, but with none of that film’s subtlety and power.
Even the music is grating. Simplistic and preachy songs with titles such as “Let It Grow” (complete with gospel, hand-clapping refrains) and “I Love Nature” (seriously?) bring the people of Thneed-ville together and even persuade the evil O’Hare, the movie’s new villain, of the seed’s worth. Side note: how is there even dirt to plant the seed? The entire town is made of plastic.
The Lorax film has taken Seuss’s message and “adapted” it beyond recognition to those of us who love the book. Of course, this isn’t news. But it would have been nice if it could have been executed a little, well, better. Will this diluted environmental message (and Ted’s desire to woo Audrey) be what today’s children will think of when they think of The Lorax?