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Respectfully sticking to the adaptation template set by 2008’s Horton Hears a Who!, the creative team behind Despicable Me has turned Theodor Geisel’s 1971 cautionary eco-tale Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax into the most satisfyingly Seussian big-screen effort to date.
Armed with a splendid voice cast and a gorgeously rendered 3D-CG landscape, the film entertains while delivering it’s pro-environmental, anti-greed message wrapped in a bright package of primary colors that truly pop.
Universal Pictures should see no shortage of green when the Illumination Entertainment production opens March 2 packing an all-ages appeal that should sustain it well into spring break.
Zac Efron brings a youthful wholesomeness to the role of Ted, the idealistic 12-year-old whose ecological consciousness springs to life courtesy of his crush on his slightly older and more enlightened neighbor, Audrey (agreeably voiced by Taylor Swift).
(The character names served as a sweet shout-out by Ted Geisel to his wife, Audrey, CEO of Dr. Seuss Enterprises and Lorax executive producer.)
Determined to win her affection, Ted sets his sights beyond the plastic walls of the pre-fabricated town of Thneedville in search of the legendary Truffula Tree with a little guidance from his spirited Grammy Norma (terrific as usual Betty White).
His trek takes him to the foreboding, isolated home of The Once-ler (Ed Helms), a recluse who ultimately shares his tale of Thneed-fed greed, having stripped the entire Truffula Valley of its candy-colored vegetation despite the attempted intervention of the tree’s guardian, an orange sprite with a yellow Rip Taylor ‘stache called The Lorax (an ideal Danny DeVito).
Having previously blended the irreverent and the touching to rewarding effect in Despicable Me, director Chris Renaud and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (the pair previously got their Seuss on with Horton Hears a Who!) prove to be the right team for the job at hand.
It all zips along pleasantly, elevated by those vividly pastoral visuals and that on-the-money voice cast, which also includes Rob Riggle as the villainous Aloysius O’Hare, a pint-sized heavy who has made his fortune selling bottled fresh air to the people of Thneedville, with his factories further polluting the atmosphere in the process.
Speaking of fresh, while the Dr. Seuss book was certainly ahead of its time, the film occasionally feels less so. While the O’Hare character is somewhat reminiscent of Edna Mode in Pixar’s The Incredibles, Thneedville’s visual and thematic cues are similarly evocative of the twin worlds of WALL-E.
Meanwhile, the original songs contributed by Paul and score composer John Powell are obviously going for a rock musical vibe but don’t quite hit the desired chord.
That’s especially true of the ironic closing title number, “Let It Grow” (Celebrate the World), performed by Ester Dean, which, given the film’s organic message, might have opted for a less-auto-tuned, more unplugged rendition.
Opens: Friday, March 2 (Universal)
Production companies: Illumination Entertainment
Voice cast: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate
Director: Chris Renaud
Screenwriters: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio
Executive producers: Audrey Geisel, Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
Producers: Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy
Production designer: Yarrow Cheney
Music: John Powell
Editors: Ken Schretzmann, Claire Dodgson, Steven Liu
Rating: PG, 94 minutes.
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