By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Parents who think global warming is a bunch of poppycock can kill two birds with one stone—misrepresent the inconvenient truth and impart an early lesson in the abrogation of First Amendment rights—by forbidding their kids to see “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.” Maybe take them shooting or to a tractor pull instead. Teach ‘em something they can use.
But rest assured, children know the score. They’re just protecting your feelings. During one scene from directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda’s Hollywoodization of Dr. Seuss’s poignant jeremiad about the ecology, the cute little animals are leaving a decimated forest that can no longer sustain them. The silence in the theater is deafening.
I’ve no doubt that if President Teddy Roosevelt, that icon of conservation, could ride the time machine to a theater showing “The Lorax,” he’d doff his Roughrider hat and shout “bully!” reaffirming the true spirit of conservatism. I’d treat to lunch, where I’m sure we’d agree the film is more important as a tutorial than it is as art. T.R. can leave the tip.
While the animation and voicing are just fine, and the mood of the tale ultimately comical and uplifting, save for the moral message this has to be the least Seuss-like of the movie adaptations. Still, I could see a Broadway rendition. Of course, with only one memorable song, they’d have to fix that. And the lecturing, well, it’s a tad too spoon-fed.
However, let’s skip for a second the controversy and the fear by some reactionary pundits that tykes and tots viewing this flick will immediately want to occupy their nursery schools, especially if they’re profitable. This is no more subversive than “Little Red Riding Hood.” It’s fun. Strip thought from our entertainment and we’re numbskulls.
That said, welcome to Thneed-Ville, a Popsicle and Candyland-looking place with seemingly happy folk. But look a bit further and you note that, similar to H.G. Wells’s passive Eloi in “The Time Machine,” they’re living a life of subjugation. Like the phony trees and plants, their complacency is synthetic. What’s more, the city is walled.
But here’s the real rub, the ultimate confiscation we cite when agonizing over monopolistic insensibility: ‘The next thing you know, they’ll be charging us for air.” Fact is, Mr. O’Hare, looking like the Three Stooges’s Moe Howard and verbalized by Bob Riggle, wouldn’t have it any other way. He owns it. Cough up the cash or suffocate.
How this rotten kettle of fish came to be is told when, in true chivalric fashion, 12-year-old Ted, articulated by Zac Efron, embarks to win the love of Audrey, voiced by Taylor Swift. A budding environmentalist, Audrey pines for a real tree, declaring that if someone gave her one, she’d probably marry him. Hey, if such stuff could start the Trojan War….
A vision of machismo atop his cool, one-wheeled motorbike, what little boy wouldn’t want to be Ted? And now he has a mission…a quest no less, in the service of a lady fair, just like the knights of old. Problem is, he doesn’t know if a tree grows anywhere in this brave new world. Good thing Grammy Norma (Betty White) is around to advise.
Seek out the Once-ler, she counsels. He’ll know. So off Ted goes, where no kid has gone before, at least not in a very, very long time, perhaps not since the air was free. Like the scene in 1492, when an adventurer might fear falling off the edge, he approaches, through tunnel and over bridge, the end of the known world…the wall. He zooms through a door.
Gosh…it’s a wasteland, a nonexistent forest of ruin, and pretty spooky, too. Oh well, gotta find this Once-ler. But when he finally does, it’s apparent this won’t be getting any easier. Barely visible, ensconced high in a tower where he lives in hermit fashion, the Once-ler isn’t quick to help, at least not at first, his words rife with mystery and puzzle.
Fortunately, Grammy made sure Ted took along the Once-ler’s favorite treat. The story goes into flashback as the strange curmudgeon tells a tale of greed and how, through his invention of the Thneed, an all-purpose garment made from trees, it resulted in this sad state of affairs. But hark, the forces of evil are spying.
Sneaky as Nixon, invasive as the KGB, Mr. O’Hare is hip to the activist jive, fearful that this young do-gooder might spoil his pay-to-breathe domination. Then the action speeds up and the colorful, 3-D magic reaches near kaleidoscopic proportions. Land sakes alive, Ma, the revolution is on, and Junior is experiencing his first coup d’état.
So, let’s see: free speech, separation of business and state, conservation, and fighting tyranny. Hmm. Better not let your kid see “The Lorax.” He might grow up to be an American.
“Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” rated PG, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda and stars the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift. Running time: 86 minutes
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