THE LORAX:  Not Even For Free – A Seussian Mess
It may not be pretty, but surely it’s true–Credit must go where credit is due.  In this case, that means the Universal Pictures Marketing Department, which as it turns out has done a splendid job these last few weeks of hiding just how thoroughly terrible the new movie of Dr. Seuss’ THE LORAX really is.

Considering how cinematic the works of Dr. Seuss seem to be, the films based on his work have a surprisingly bad track record.  Horton Hears A Who! managed to be mediocre, but How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat In the Hat were two of the most painful family movies of recent years.  Part of the problem is undoubtedly that Seuss’ picture books don’t have enough story for a full-length feature, and thus have to be “opened up,” usually badly.  (The 1966 TV Grinch was and is a short classic, but Ron Howard’s movie is a bloated disaster.)  There’s also something about Seuss’ extravagant, anarchic imagery that seems to give filmmakers (and sometimes actors) the sense that they’re free to indulge themselves, and that only too much can be enough.
The Lorax was produced by Illumination Entertainment, which gave Universal its big hit Despicable Me, with Illumination honcho Christopher Meledandri serving as producer, over director Chris Renaud (also a director of Despicable).  As written for the screen by Cinco Paul (another Despicable vet) and Paul Daurio, Lorax is badly constructed, overly blunt and emotionally unsatisfying.  The first hour of the story is mostly a series of flashbacks:  young Ted (Zac Efron), on a mission to please Audrey, the girl of his dreams (Taylor Swift–who doesn’t sing, even though the movie features several ghastly songs by Cinco Paul and composer John Powell), sets off to find her a real living tree.  This is a challenge, because Ted and Audrey live in Thneedville, a completely artificial town where the “soil” is painted concrete and the “trees” are inflatable.  Thneedville is run by O’Hare (Rob Riggle), who’s gotten rich by selling the inhabitants bottled air less poisonous than the polluted stuff around them.
Ted is advised to seek out The Once-ler (Ed Helms) for tree-related wisdom, and finds him walled up in the only structure standing amid the wasteland outside Thneedville’s city limits.  Once-ler, at great length, tells Ted the story of how he became the victim of his own ambition and greed, breaking his promises to the forest creatures and to the mystical Lorax (Danny DeVito), who speaks “for the trees,” chopping all the trees down in order to build an industrial empire producing unnecessary Thneeds.  (This will not be Mitt Romney’s favorite movie of the year.)    Eventually, Once-ler gives Ted the last remaining tree seed, and that leads to a final half-hour of chase scenes and supposedly heartwarming conclusion.
We know for a fact that it’s possible to tell a whimsical animated fantasy about the dangers of corporate greed and human indolence, because it was called WALL-E and it was a masterpiece.  Rango, too, had a not dissimilar plot (evil industrialist villain, water instead of trees being withheld from the town) and melded its message with weirdness to brilliant effect.  The Lorax makers, however, don’t evidence a fraction of the artistry that went into those films.  Even if one applauds Lorax‘s environmental message, the singleminded way it beats that drum becomes wearying, and the characters are all exceedingly flat.  That even includes DeVito’s Lorax, beyond the couple of decent lines that are already in all the trailers and ads.
The look of the animation (which, by the way, makes almost zero use of the 3D imposed on it) is reasonably colorful and Seussian in a general way, but for a story that hinges so much on the preciousness of nature, there’s almost no memorable imagery here, not a single moment that brings home the message the picture is trying so desperately to send.
The Lorax is dreary, a bore despite its brief running time.  These multimillionaire purportedly anti-corporate moviemakers have done nothing but grind a small, charming piece of literature into an outsized corporate product.  It’s a Thneed.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."