[Screen It]


(2012) (voices of Zac Efron, Ed Helms) (PG)

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Animated Dramedy/Musical: As he tries to find a real tree to impress the girl of his dreams, a boy hears a hermit's tale of what caused the deforestation of their land long ago.
Ted (voice of ZAC EFRON) is a 12-year-old boy who lives in the walled town of Thneedville where all plant life is completely artificial. The girl of his dreams -- Audrey (voice of TAYLOR SWIFT) -- would someday like to see a real tree and thus Ted sets out to find one. The problem is only his Grammy Norma (voice of BETTY WHITE) remembers them from long ago, while everyone else -- including Ted's Mom (voice of JENNY SLATE) -- seems content with the plastic ones and the bottled air supplied by Thneedville's mayor and number one businessman, Mr. O'Hare (voice of ROB RIGGLE).

Grammy informs Ted that he needs to find the Once-ler (voice of ED HELMS) if wants answers and a possible solution to his "impress Audrey" conundrum. Accordingly, Ted leaves the walled city into the desolate outside environs where he eventually meets the reclusive hermit. The Once-ler initially wants nothing to do with Ted, but changes his mind once he hears the boy is interested in real trees.

The hermit then proceeds to tell the tale of his involvement in their disappearance. We then see a number of flashbacks to him leaving town, intent on making a name for himself, as well as lots of cash, creating a multi-purpose product. He finds the right "ingredient" in the form of the colorful and fibrous Truffula Tree tufts and proceeds to cut down one such tree to get them. That brings about the appearance of the diminutive but highly opinionated guardian of the forest, The Lorax (voice of DANNY DeVITO).

He informs Ted of the error of his ways, and the young businessman agrees not to chop down any additional trees, and instead harvests the tufts, all while befriending the local animals of the land. But when his product suddenly becomes a hit, he needs to increase production, which can only mean the downing of the trees. Back in the present, Ted listens to the tale in amazement and realizes, with a little help from the Once-ler, that he can make a difference. But he must then contend with O'Hare who sees the possibility of a real tree endangering his air monopoly and control of the people of Thneedville.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I'm all for saving the environment -- what with Earth's human population now north of seven billion people -- but I don't always practice what I believe in. Sure, I recycle, turn off lights in empty rooms and such, but I do like my house temperature at a comfortable setting year round, while this very review you're now reading was proofed on printed paper.

Yeah, I know. There's technology out there now that replicates the pen to paper version of editing, and I do get the irony of proofing an online review on paper. I wonder, though, whether other pro-environmental causes also get the irony of harming the environment -- in one way or another -- by their methods of getting their message out.

That was especially true back before the dawn of electronic media where if something wasn't broadcast over the air, it had to be printed on some form of paper. Take, for instance, "The Lorax," published back in 1971. A children's tale containing adult thematic material, it was about environmentalism (specifically the cutting down of trees) and rampant & destructive capitalism, yet was printed on paper and sold for a profit. Had Theodor Seuss Geisel -- a.k.a. Dr. Seuss -- considered and included that in the work, it could have spiraled in upon itself in some sort of weird rabbit hole fashion.

Then again, maybe it wasn't that successful back in its day. After all, I was 7 when it came out and have no memory of it, unlike other Seuss works such as "Horton Hears a Who!" "Green Eggs and Ham," "The Cat in the Hat," "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish" and, of course, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" And I'm not alone. At our press screening for the new computer-animated version of the tale, other reviewers were also in the dark about the work, as were friends when I later told them what I had just seen.

Granted, Seuss wrote 46 children's books and not all achieved the level of fame of "Grinch," "Horton" and the like, so it's possible this one simply didn't warrant a purchase by my or the others' parents. Is it possible its overt messages made it something of a black sheep of children's literature? Could that happen with this release among those with a particular disdain for earthy, "tree hugger" types?

Only time will tell, but there's no denying the old messages have turned new again and thus remain intact. In short, the story -- adapted by screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul -- is that of an old hermit who lives outside a walled city where all plant-life, including trees, is artificial. It's that way because of the hermit's efforts long ago to make a buck by selling lots of multi-purpose "thneeds" made from the native Truffula Tree tufts that resulted in the complete deforestation of them.

We learn of this story -- seen in flashback -- as the hermit tells it to a boy who's on a quest to find a real tree in order to impress the girl of his dreams. The only problem is, there are no trees anymore and the town's Napoleonic mayor -- who sells bottled air to the masses -- doesn't like the boy snooping around for the truth.

The result is a generally entertaining if sometimes a bit heavy-handed piece of children's entertainment presented not only in 3-D (in select theaters), but also as an occasional musical. I didn't count the total amount of such song-based interludes, but they pop up now and then, with the most memorable one being an anti-capitalistic number that summarizes the tyranny of pillaging the environment for monetary gain.

As directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, that and the overall film move along at a brisk pace, with enough action, comedy and cute and/or goofy supporting characters to entertain the kids and keep most adults from ever getting bored with the proceedings. Vocal work is good but not outstanding, while the animation is spot-on for recreating a colorful Seuss-like universe, complete with odd-looking characters and trees that look like fuzzy lollipops.

Diehard Seuss aficionados might not be happy with liberties taken with the tale, and only a few instances of his witty, rhyming and rhythmic writing are present, but the filmmakers obviously had to add and expand upon things to turn the illustrated, 45 page book into a 94-some minute movie. Not being familiar with the original work, that had no impact upon my view of the film that I found, for the most part, enjoyable, if somewhat forgettable not long after I left the theater. "The Lorax" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed February 25, 2012 / Posted March 2, 2012

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