There's an eco-message in "The Lorax," but it's buried in wasteful, dull padding.
Did you ever get a package where the bubble wrap was 10 times the volume of the item inside? That's what "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" is like. Oddly, for a message film about conservation, the bulk of the movie is inert filler. The simple charm that makes Seuss magical is crushed beneath the stuffing.
This reboot is a far cry from 1972's fondly remembered TV movie "The Lorax." That version was a tight 24-minute charmer scripted by the good doctor, Theodor Geisel himself. The first "Lorax" was clear, compelling and quirky, making its point about self-defeating greed and environmental stewardship with minimal fuss. It will supply your quota of silly rhymes, nonsense phrases, tree-huggery and visual pizazz without overstaying its welcome.
But for Hollywood, enough is rarely enough. "Despicable Me" co-directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda inflate this modest parable to 94 minutes with irrelevant sidebars about young love and Ringling Brothers action sequences, bloating the story without advancing it.
The action is set in Thneedville, "a city they say that was plastic and fake," much like the surrounding film. The residents drive bulging SUVs and inflate plastic foliage in their front yards. In this candy-colored dystopia, bottled fresh air is sold by the grasping tycoon O'Hare (Rob Riggle).
Everyone accepts this unnatural existence until 12-year-old Ted (Zac Efron) vows to locate a real, living tree to impress cute neighbor Audrey (Taylor Swift).
The reclusive Once-ler (Ed Helms) agrees to help him, but not right away. Whenever the narrative pace threatens to pick up, the Once-ler flies into action, delivering reams of needless back story. After punishing delays he confesses he clear-cut the forest to make "thneeds," ugly multipurpose shirt/sock/glove/hats that "everyone needs."
Enter the Lorax (Danny DeVito), nature's defender, who argues that no one needs thneeds.
Why golly, thneeds are a lot like 3-D glasses sold at a stiff upcharge, aren't they? Viewers who want to honor Dr. Seuss' warning about conserving resources can leave the car in the garage and show their children the original "Lorax."
It is viewable on the Internet free of charge. So skip the new movie. Enjoy the old one and use your extra hour of freedom for some parent and child face-time instead.
As the story's coda reminds us, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, / Nothing is going to get better ... / It's not."