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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, April 18, 2014

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Danny DeVito voices the lead in "The Lorax," out today.
Danny DeVito voices the lead in "The Lorax," out today.

"The Lorax" fails to find a happy medium

With the country becoming more and more polarized, the upcoming release of "The Lorax" had the potential to take Dr. Seuss' famous kid-friendly environmental fable and turn it into an informative and entertaining tale about keeping all things in moderation.

Yeah ... not so much.

The film version does away with subtlety entirely. Residents of "Thneedville" live in ignorant bliss in a climate-controlled dome city monitored by a pint-sized fascist business tycoon named O'Hare (voiced by Rob Riggle). They're sheltered from the outside world, which has been rendered a wasteland by the over-industrialism of the Once-ler (Ed Helms).

On the other side of things is the Lorax, who we meet through flashbacks as the Once-ler tells his story to Ted (Zac Efron), a boy determined to find a Truffula tree for his crush, Audrey (Taylor Swift). The Lorax (Danny DeVito) "speaks for the trees," as fans of the book know, and he and his cuddly woodland creature buddies do make for some light-hearted entertainment.

Within the black-and-white battle between industry and the environment are a number of distracting, yet colorful, side scenes. While common for a kids' movie, the number here borders on excessive and includes a few excruciatingly cheesy musical numbers that really don't need to be there.

The people behind the adaptation do deserve some credit, though. They managed to take a simple kids' book and turn it into an even more simplified kids' movie perfectly suited for mass feature film consumption.

Like the city of Thneed-ville, "The Lorax" is an over-processed parody mocking its largely passive, ignorant population. Keeping it simple is a necessity to keep a kid's attention for an hour and a half, but this thinly-veiled commentary lacks common sense even today's newest generation could grasp.

Why didn't the Once-ler just start replanting trees in the first place? He's supposed to be a savvy and innovative businessman. Why don't the Thneedville-ites wonder why their city is completely walled in? According to Ted's grandmother (token grandma character Betty White) her generation still had trees. Don't they care about getting them back? Isn't anyone interested in what's going on outside the city?

There are too many questions poking holes in this parable. Most importantly, "The Lorax" glosses over whether the people learned anything at all. They just pop out another musical number and destroy their city's entire infrastructure. There's no mention of balance or sustainability, and the audience is left with what conservative critics insist the original book version was – adorably packaged anti-industrial propaganda.

"The Lorax" isn't worth seeing in theaters, and certainly not in "Tree-D," as the ads say. Kids who are small enough to just want to see it for the fluffy animals can wait for the DVD, and kids who are old enough to absorb some of the takeaways are better off reading the book and getting a parental lesson in finding middle ground.

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