“I speak for the trees” announces the titular Lorax, grandly, after appearing in a clap of thunder from the shattered stump of a recently-felled truffula tree.
The problem, at least with this adaptation, is that he doesn’t, really. The self-appointed “Guardian of the Forest” just stands by as the life-giving flora is brutally cut down, doing little more than tutting and shaking his head in the manner of a disapproving spray-tanned pensioner watching the youth of today skateboard down the street.
And why does he not use his “powers” to prevent this wanton destruction? Ostensibly to teach a single misguided person, the Once-ler, a harsh lesson in the benefits of sustainable farming. Which has always felt like a somewhat extreme approach to me, but hey. Perhaps he is a representation of the Once-ler’s guilt, like a grumpy, furry conscience. Or perhaps the embodiment of nature, impotent in the face of technological advancement and consumerist greed.
Alas, the answer is not made clear in the film because the Lorax himself (nicely voiced by Danny DeVito) doesn’t really feature that much at all, what with the filmmakers preferring to focus their limited attention spans on a painfully trite teen romance, an uninspired bad-guy (he’s short, it’s funny, geddit?), and some thoroughly lacklustre high-speed chases.
It doesn’t help matters that the songs are instantly forgettable and the characters are as plastic and generic as the town they inhabit. The animation is of a decent enough standard, yet I couldn’t help but feel that for a film based on work from the fertile mind of one of America’s most beloved and unique children’s authors and illustrators, there is a noticeable lack of visual originality, charm or wit.
This is all a great pity, because there is an important ecological message here, especially for younger viewers. However, when this message isn’t being driven home with all the subtlety of a stretch hum-vee, it’s being lost amidst generic mayhem and noise, diminishing the power of Seuss’ bleak, cautionary, yet ultimately hopeful, tale.
Certainly not terrible, The Lorax nevertheless lacks personality and charm, and ends up feeling, somewhat ironically, like a cynical exercise in commercialisation.