Dr. Seuss (1904-91), born Theodore Seuss Geisel, was arguably the foremost American childrens writer. Throughout his career, which began as a cartoonist and included a stint writing propaganda films for the war effort during the 1940s, Dr. Seuss is most known for his childrens books, which come with a distinctive nonsense rhyming style based around the repetition of simple words. The 46 books that Dr. Seuss produced include classics such as Horton Hears a Who! (1955), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) and Green Eggs and Ham (1960).
Since the 00s, Dr. Seusss works have been popular as feature-length cinematic properties. All versions prior to that had been short films that were produced as tv specials the sole exception being the live-action film The 5000 Fingers of Dr T (1953), which was made from an original Dr. Seuss screenplay, although this was a financial flop in its day. This modern spate of Dr. Seuss films began with Ron Howards big-budget production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) and was followed by a live-action version of The Cat in the Hat (2003). Blue Sky Studios next made an animated version of Horton Hears a Who! (2008), on which The Loraxs director Chris Renaud was employed on as a story artist.
The problem with these Dr. Seuss adaptations is that they are required to extend books of around 50-60 illustrated pages out to a feature-length film. Dr. Seusss stories were founded around his absurdist illustrations and nonsense rhymes. In being required to stretch these out to 90-minutes, the films tend to fall back on using the formula of the animated/childrens movie to pad the story thus the child protagonists are brought to the fore and written with a far greater degree of maudlin cuteness; there is far more of a happy feelgood message that Dr. Seuss never went for; minor pieces of background becomes full blown set-pieces; and in the case of The Cat in the Hat, the entire story is blown up into a equivalent of a custard pie fight. Here the Dr. Seuss story is extruded out with the addition of a big climactic chase to preserve the seed as the corporate bad guys attempt to obtain it.
Certainly, you have to commend The Lorax as the film follows the path of the original story closely on all points bar the addition of a few minor supporting characters on the sideline. This does mean that Dr. Seusss original pro-environmental message is laid on with a trowel. Indeed, the film amplifies this to an extent where almost everything is divided along rigid black-and-white lines evil is represented by a city where everything is plastic and artificial and a corporation rules with a paranoid and intrusive iron hand, while on the side of good is the open countryside where animals and fish are allowed to frolic in freedom and trees grow in peace. As a rule, I am in favour of an environmental message but the film seems to overstate the issue with a cudgel even to the extent of including songs about it on the soundtrack. Although such would well appear to have been Dr. Seusss original intent and the original The Lorax (1971) book attained some controversy from the pro-logging movement when it came out.
There is an amiable niceness to The Lorax up on screen but the film never moves outside of the formula of the animated childrens movie. As such, it is down around the level of the average Blue Sky Studios film cute but still trying too hard to find what Pixar does effortlessly. What seems to be lacking here are the charms and appeals that there were to Illuminations Despicable Me. Danny DeVito turns up to voice the role of The Lorax but the character seems surprisingly cuddly, middle of the road and unmemorable, especially given DeVitos history of eccentric roles that hold a malicious bite. There is slightly more in the way of scene stealing cuteness when it comes to the bears and fish that inhabit the valley, although the rest of the film passes into no more than routine formula.