Speaking for the trees

Dr. Seuss’ enviro-message shines through the 3-D and product tie-ins

The Lorax is not pleased with the state of his trees.

The Lorax is not pleased with the state of his trees.

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Starring the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift and Ed Helms. Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG.
Rated 3.0

When your birthday is celebrated posthumously every year with a national reading initiative, you know you’re a legend. That’s certainly the case for the late, great author Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), whose 108th birthday coincided once again with the kick-off of the NEA’s Read Across America program as well as with the opening day of an animated feature based on one of his children’s books—Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.

For more than 50 years, Dr. Seuss’s books have entertained young readers using his unique style of delivery in simple rhymes. He’s shared a variety of topics, from the spirit of Christmas (How the Grinch Stole Christmas) to the importance of trying new things (Green Eggs and Ham). With The Lorax, his fourth book re-imagined for film (two live-action, two animated), we get a direct message: The Lorax “speaks for the trees,” promoting environmentalist ideals about conserving natural resources.

The film version follows preteen Ted (Zac Efron—who really shouldn’t be providing the voice for a 12-year-old), who lives in the over-industrialized town of Thneed-Ville, where the citizens are brainwashed into thinking that their plastic environment is paradise. When his crush Audrey (Taylor Swift) reveals her desire to see a real, live tree, Ted sets out on a quest to learn about what happened to the natural world, leading him to the home of the mysterious hermit The Once-ler (Ed Helms), who it turns out is largely responsible for the deforestation. Helms’ voice-over talent shines here, and his comedic timing translates smoothly to the animated world.

It’s The Once-ler’s flashback scenes that make the film especially reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s original tale. The forested world is brought to screen with the same vivid color schemes and fantastical illustrations as in the book. The simplicity of the book rings true in these sequences as well, whereas the film overall becomes more complicated with the added story layer of Ted’s life in Thneed-Ville. But for the purposes of drawing out a short story into a feature film, that makes sense.

Danny DeVito is the voice of The Lorax, who urges Once-ler to reconsider his greedy ways and not cut down the beautiful Truffula trees for his own entrepreneurial gains. Expecting more humor from famous funnyman DeVito, I was slightly disappointed by his subdued portrayal of The Lorax. Then again, his character does have some important environmental speeches to rattle off. I know, I know; it’s ironic that an eco-friendly message is being transmitted through a big-budget Hollywood production. I get it. But 3-D blockbuster spectacles are probably here to stay, and there could be much worse messages being conveyed. Seven-year-olds watching this movie certainly aren’t concerned with the contradictions of Hollywood, but they might learn a thing or two about nature. Judging from the sympathetic moans I heard during the tree-cutting sequence, I’d say a message was conveyed.

As much as caring for Mother Nature is important, the story’s message is more universal than just its environmental agenda. The Lorax simply wants people to care about something enough to make a change. Like Seuss wrote in the book: “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” It’s a harsh reality wrapped in an innocent rhyme, but that declaration transcends time, and now more than ever we should listen.