By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin March 2, 2012 at 1:00AM
Have you noticed that (as often as not) when Hollywood moviemakers stray from their source material they insist on putting the author’s name above the title? To me, this only compounds the offense. No author has suffered more at the hands of Hollywood in recent years than Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The man who brightened my childhood, and my daughter’s, with his clever verse, fanciful drawings, and vivid imagination has been pummeled by such overblown productions as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and (even worse)The Cat in the Hat. Now comes The Lorax, a bright, shiny 3-D animated film from the team that made its reputation with the unpretentious feature Despicable Me.
The Lorax was Dr. Seuss’ most serious work, as it conveyed an ecological message to youngsters and their parents. The message remains intact in this adaptation, by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, but it’s almost smothered by extraneous story material and characters. Directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda have filled every scene with funny-looking (or sounding) characters, sight gags, and one-liners to provide constant distraction. This might work as a diversion for younger kids, but there is no sign of the wit or wisdom of Dr. Seuss.
The story, about a boy who lives in a plastic city and goes in search of a genuine tree, meanders far and wide. That’s because, like other Seussian adaptations, this one takes a slender book and arbitrarily expands it to feature length. When the DePatie-Freleng animation studio adapted The Lorax for television forty years ago, it ran just under a half-hour, which didn’t require all that padding.
The songs, by screenwriter Paul and composer John Powell, are odd and unmemorable, except for the summing-up number “Let it Grow,” which ends the picture.
Theodore Geisel counted on the bond of trust he had built with his readers to offer a thoughtful and timely message. The people behind this forgettable film are merely trading on the author’s deep reserve of goodwill.