Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (PG) ★★★

Review Date: March 9th, 2012

All of 45 pages in length and darkly foreboding in its warning of impending ecological catastrophe, The Lorax, Dr. Seuss' 1971 environmental fable, is hardly good grist for a modern blockbuster. To broaden its appeal – and its merchandising potential – Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, co-directors of Imagine Entertainment's 3D-animated adaptation, have taken generous liberties with the source text. Their efforts more than adequately satisfy the dictates of commercial family entertainment, but they will undoubtedly earn the ire of Seuss purists, should any still remain after the 2003 Cat in the Hat tragedy.

Fans of the book will at least recognize the essential elements in the film. We still have the Once-ler (Ed Helms) chopping down precious Truffula trees to make his thneeds, and we still have the orange-maned Lorax (Danny DeVito) begging him to stop. But now the former has been refashioned into a guitar-toting go-getter with entrepreneurial zeal and a sympathetic backstory, while the latter is given a group of adorably incompetent sidekicks. Meanwhile, Seuss' youthful audience surrogate, silent and unnamed in the book, has become Ted (Zac Efron, of course), a sassy adolescent with a pretty crush (Taylor Swift), a snowboarding grandma (Betty White), and a destiny of his own to fulfill, replete with its very own villain (Rob Riggle). Oh, and there are now musical numbers as well.

The film's environmental message is considerably less strident than Seuss' original story, which essentially cast industry and nature as adversaries in a zero-sum death match. Seuss' ominous exhortation "unless" becomes less a plea to stem capitalism's inexorable advance than a polite suggestion to plant a tree – which, I think, even the most ardent global warming deniers would agree is worthwhile. The animation, which uses Seuss' original artwork merely as a jumping-off point, is absolutely gorgeous, even if it probably betrays the author's minimalist ethos. The new narrative bells and whistles, on the other hand, are considerably less appealing, and seem too conspicuously designed to connect with younger audiences – and to provide a pretext for some ostentatious chase sequences. The Lorax speaks for the trees; Zac Efron speaks for the vital 12-to-18-year-old demographic.

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Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.