I think The Lorax was my favorite Dr. Seuss book growing up. I loved when the Lorax jumped out of the stump and there was something hilarious and touching about how outraged and bossy he was. It looked to me that Danny DeVito would be a perfect person to voice the Lorax. In fact, doesn’t he kind of look like the Lorax? In this incarnation of the beloved Seuss book, however, the Lorax’s outrage has been diminished, making the story far less interesting.

The Lorax expounds on Dr. Seuss’s novel, starting after all the trees have been chopped down and the earth has gotten so polluted that the biggest company in town sells bottled air. Young Ted (Zac Efron) has a pretty major crush on Audrey (Taylor Swift), who wishes nothing more than to see a real tree, rather than the plastic ones that are displayed all over town. With some help from his Grammy Norma (Betty White), Ted finds his way to The Once-ler (Ed Helms), the reclusive man who knows what happened to all the trees. In order to get the last remaining seed to take back to his girl, Ted has to listen to the Once-ler tell the story of how all the trees were destroyed at his own hand, despite the many warnings of the Lorax (Danny DeVito) who speaks for the trees. Meanwhile, Ted’s daily adventures beyond the city walls have caught the attention of Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), the wealthy businessman who owns the air company and basically the whole town. O’Hare wants to stop Ted because bringing trees back would seriously damage his business model as trees, you know, make air for free.

This interpretation of The Lorax interestingly expounds on Seuss’s book to envision a world without trees and controlled by big business. The approach makes more sense than that taken by some of the other Seuss movies trying to stretch a short book into a full-length feature film. The characters added, however, seem distinctly separate from the originals. While the Once-ler and the Lorax maintain their Seuss-iness, riffing on the narrative of critique from the storybook, the additional characters are pretty flat, even for a childcare’s movie. While it is pretty easy to believe that Ted has a big enough crush on Audrey that he’ll go to great lengths to get her a tree, he doesn’t seem to actually undergo any change of character or internalize his responsibility. That said, the stories message that nothing will change for the better if people remain apathetic is worth conveying.

Instead, the film is heavy on cute and light on ritique. The movie is worth watching for the bears alone, especially the scene when the Once-ler bribes them with marshmallows. At times The Lorax is almost unbearably cute. The book, however, is a pretty straight-forward commentary on pollution and the overuse of natural resources in commerce. The prominence of cuteness in this adaptation is a little overbearing (no pun intended). Further, the acting is pretty much just the actors being themselves. Ed Helms is Ed Helms, random singing and all. Betty White is just Betty White. There’s nothing really excellent going on.

The songs are also pretty ridiculous. The opening musical number seems more like a parody of musicals than an actual productive part of the story. The song in which the Once-ler undergoes his transformation from earnest kid trying to make something of himself to reckless entrepreneur is interesting as it counters the argument that “you can’t blame me, I’m just being me.” It is also, however a really abrupt shift in the story that could have been done less jarringly, and therefore probably more productively.

All told, The Lorax is better than other Dr. Seuss movies, but still fails to deliver on the level of wit and art of the original story. I’m sure it’s tempting to create films from such vivid, engaging stories, but we’ve yet to see it done really well. 3/5 stars

The Lorax was written by Ken Daurio and directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda. It runs 86 minutes and is rated PG.