‘The Lorax’: not quite what the doctor ordered, critics say

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The 2008 animated film ‘Horton Hears a Who’ fared somewhat better than the live-action versions of 2000’s ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ (a box-office hit) and 2003’s widely panned ‘The Cat in the Hat.’

And reviews are mixed for ‘Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,’ now playing in theaters. The animated feature tells the story of a boy searching for a real live tree in a deforested plastic land.


The Times’ Kenneth Turan (watch review below) finds that ‘The Lorax’ strays too far from the source material. Although the film maintains the book’s ecological message and offers ‘lively and colorful’ visuals, Turan writes that ‘this movie version adds a whole lot of other stuff, most of it not very good and not in keeping with the spirit of the Seuss original.’

PHOTOS: ‘The Lorax’ premiere

‘To expand Seuss’ slim volume to theatrical feature length,’ Turan says, ‘a whole lot of plot and heaping handfuls of characters needed to be invented.’ Those plot elements and characters feel ‘forced’ and ‘unpleasant,’ he concludes.

The New York Times’ A.O. Scott compares the movie version of ‘The Lorax’ to the synthetic trees in its story: a poor imitation the original. Scott calls the movie ‘a noisy, useless piece of junk, reverse-engineered into something resembling popular art in accordance with the reigning imperatives of marketing and brand extension.’ Scott also criticizes the film for not respecting its audience, ‘as if young viewers could be entertained only by a ceaseless barrage of sensory stimulus and pop-culture attitude.’

Not every critic is writing off ‘The Lorax.’ Claudia Puig, of USA Today, gives the film a positive review and says that director Chris Renaud and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (all of ‘Despicable Me’) ‘were just the right people to bring Dr. Seuss’ (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) 1971 environmental fable to vivid, eye-popping life.’ The film, Puig writes, ‘remains faithful to the spirit of Seuss,’ and the actors ‘are an inspired choice,’ particularly Danny DeVito as the title creature and Rob Riggle as a polluting villain.

The Boston Globe’s Wesley Morris deems the film ‘a pleasing tale,’ and one with some depth. Both elements are reflected in what he calls ‘a show-stopper’ of a song, ‘How Bad Could I Be?’ which is not only entertaining, ‘it also brings out the book’s doomy undercurrent and has more layers and complexity than the movie around it.’


Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips is ambivalent; he says the movie ‘does a few smaller things right but the bigger things not quite.’ According to Phillips, ‘The Lorax’ does ‘respect the basic lines of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s illustrations, his voluptuously curvy universe of serious whimsy.’ On the other hand, ‘you couldn’t accuse the film of practicing what it preaches: careful stewardship of a precious resource.’ The film is ‘[gussied] up with lots of vehicular chase sequences and musical numbers of uneven quality,’ though in the end it manages to return to its Seuss-ian roots.

Hearst movie writer Amy Biancolli also comes down somewhere in the middle. She says ‘The Lorax’ movie isn’t timeless (unlike the book), and it certainly isn’t faultless: ‘Efforts to jazz things up with zooming scooters pad rather than add to the story, and the film could easily ditch O’Hare, a diabolical corporate weenie who hawks air.’ But in the end, ‘The whole thing is harmless.’ It’s also, Biancolli says, ‘perfectly sweet.’

For the franchise that survived Mike Meyers’ disastrous turn as the Cat in the Hat, harmless and perfectly sweet might be reason enough to justify a future dip into the Seuss collection.

Big-screen adaptations of Dr. Seuss books have been a mixed bag for movie critics.


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—Oliver Gettell

Video: Kenneth Turan reviews ‘Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.’