Dr. Seuss hasn’t really translated well to the big screen.
But the beloved children’s author finally gets an adaptation worthy of his material with “The Lorax.” Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, the team behind “Despicable Me,” this is a charming family film – even as it threatens to become an environmental infomercial.
“The Lorax” centers on Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) and Audrey (Taylor Swift) – two teens living in a town completely made of plastic, where trees no longer exist.
When Audrey tells Ted of her wish to see a real tree, Ted sets out on a quest to make that happen. The quest leads him to The Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) – a mysterious hermit who tells Ted about his encounter with a grumpy creature named the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) and how their encounter has led to the current tree-less world.
“The Lorax” is basically nothing more than a storybook come to life. It works really well thanks to the keen visual eyes of Renaud and Balda. This is a very detailed, vibrant world full of fun creatures and interesting characters. I really enjoyed a trio of singing goldfish and liked the dynamics between Ted and Audrey. Betty White is also delightful as Ted’s grandmother.
Ironically enough, the Lorax is actually one of the least interesting characters in the film – a one-note kind of fellow that thankfully has limited screen time.
The story isn’t quite up to the visuals, though. I didn’t really have a problem with it, but I can totally understand those who might see the film’s environmental message with its strong liberal undertones. Who knew Dr. Seuss was a tree-hugging hippie?
I’m willing to overlook it, though, because for the most part I had fun watching “The Lorax.” After missteps like “The Cat in the Hat” and “Horton Hears a Who,” it’s nice to see a Dr. Seuss film that is entertaining.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Young Adult” (A-) – the overlooked December gem that is dark and at times uncomfortable to watch, featuring a great performance from Charlize Theron.
Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, this is the cinematic equivalent of a train wreck that you can’t turn away from. It’s a film that starts in a dark place and never compromises.
Theron plays Mavis Gary, a recently divorced writer living in Minneapolis who discovers her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife are now proud parents. Instead of congratulating Buddy on his new addition, Mavis returns to her small hometown determined to steal him from his family. Mavis is convinced they can rekindle their past relationship, even as another former high school classmate, Matt (Patton Oswalt), tries to convince her otherwise.
Anyone expecting Mavis to have some sort of epiphany will be disappointed. Cody, who won an Oscar for writing “Juno,” has created a mess of a character that is for the most part very unlikeable. Mavis is a surly, bitter, lonely alcoholic desperately clinging to this idea of a great life – even when everyone else in her life has moved on.
It’s the kind of film where you know it’s going to end badly, and Reitman and Cody never compromise.
Theron is fantastic as Mavis. She deserves a lot of credit for taking this rather ugly character and not shying away. I realize she won an Oscar for “Monster,” but I actually think this is a better performance – one that is more subtle but just as effective.
Oswalt is also very good, a seemingly grounded guy who has nearly as much baggage as Mavis.
I’ll concede that some people might find “Young Adult” to be a little too dark, but for me that was the why it worked so well. Not every movie character has to live happily ever after.
“Young Adult” is rated R for language and some sexual content and will be available Tuesday on DVD.