The new movie “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” based on the 1971 book, is a happy success.
For decades, popular children’s books by Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) have been adapted to cartoons, short films and TV specials; yet their size and rhythm seemed to resist the long form.
With the exception of the original feature screenplay written by Seuss, 1953’s “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T,” the first attempt to bring one of his stories to the big screen was 2000’s soulless “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
In 2003 came “The Cat in the Hat,” which may be the worst movie produced in the past decade.
When brave souls tried again, in 2008, “Horton Hears a Who!” worked beautifully. The filmmakers understood and expanded the book’s themes, rather than pad the story out to feature length.
The film “The Lorax” has a few diverging musical numbers and chase scenes, but even they remain true to the story’s spirit.
In the book, the Once-Ler (whose face is never seen) begins chopping down the beautiful Truffula trees to make “thneeds.”
The Lorax, a forest spirit, protests, but the thneeds sell like hotcakes, and the Once-Ler continues chopping. When the trees die, his business dies.
The film introduces a character named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), who lives in Thneedville, a plastic place where people buy bottles of clean air, sold by corporate scoundrel Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle). On a mission to impress a pretty redhead, Audrey (Taylor Swift), Ted sets out to learn about the trees that once grew nearby.
He meets the Once-Ler (Ed Helms), and the film flashes back to the story of the Lorax (Danny DeVito), more slapsticky than in the book, but covering the same ideas. Of course, O’Hare uses all his power to keep pesky trees — which (gasp!) generate air for free — out of the city.
Writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul nicely incorporate Seuss’ original text into dialogue and songs. Their new material is fitfully funny without being needlessly vulgar.
Co-directors Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”) and Kyle Balda create effective textures and designs: the plastic feels plastic, but the trees feel refreshing.
Even if it’s a little too frenetic, “The Lorax,” with its themes of corporate greed and environmental destruction, is amazingly timely, perhaps more so now than when the visionary Seuss conceived it.
Starring Voices of Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White
Written by Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
Directed by Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
Running time 1 hour 34 minutes