The Lorax’s tale, which is told in flashback, is the side order of raw cauliflower to the main dish of boiled rutabaga. In today’s all-artificial Thneedville, 12-year-old Ted (Zac Efron) listens to the tales of the now-aged Once-ler and tries to find a single surviving tree to impress a girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift). When, after an hour or so of screen time, we finally get to the point, it’s this: Ted is going to try to plant a seed. And the villain, instead of being soundly defeated, will merely trickle away. Meanwhile every 15 minutes there’s a message-heavy pop tune that sounds like something your Earth Science teacher cooked up over the weekend with his cardigan-and-sandals band, the Symbiotics.
A few busy action scenes may entertain the kids, and the movie does have visual dazzle, but mostly it’s just dismal satire aimed at dead targets. The environment is such an object of veneration today that kids aren’t even going to get the point of the Lorax any more than they’re going to get a joke about the dance craze the Hustle (circa 1976).
A more up-to-date, and daring, movie might have satirized the artificial resource-gobblers (like Apple products) people love today, and made Thneedville’s fondness for bottled air into a more vigorous poke at the eco-unfriendliness of bottled water. But then again, people drink bottled water because they suspect tap water isn’t pure and natural enough, so that message doesn’t work either.
The Lorax turns pole-ax with the ascension and second coming of the wee fella, suggesting that this noble being was sent to rescue us but temporarily died for our polystyrene. That you can’t make a movie about the Christian deity without being “controversial,” yet can readily depict a chubby orange forest gnome as an eco-savior, says much about our age. When you’ve stopped believing in God, you don’t believe in nothing, you’ll believe in anything.