March 1, 2012 at 9:41 PM ET
REVIEW: The Lorax isn't really in that much of "The Lorax." The little orange critter (voice of Danny DeVito) who "speaks for the trees" pops up occasionally, but it's Ed Helms' Once-ler who steals the show.
The famed Dr. Seuss tale takes place in and around Thneedville, a spanking-clean town where trees are inflatable and everyone breathes bottled air sold to them by a creepy little villain (Rob Riggle). Pretty Audrey (Taylor Swift) longs for a real tree, and 12-year-old Ted (Zac Efron) is determined to find her one. With the help of Grammy (Betty White, as awesome as ever), he seeks out the Once-ler, and the old hermit tells the tale of how he broke a promise to The Lorax and cut down all the trees so he could sell the populace the briefly trendy Thneeds.
Get it? It's not exactly subtle. Lust for a fleeting consumer product ruined the trees, and for want of the trees we all must pay for bottled air, and the beauty that once covered the landscape (the trees look like pastel swirls of cotton candy) has been replaced by shattered tree trunks.
You can see why Lou Dobbs threw a fit, and why Helms came to the film's defense. Dobbs hadn't even watched the movie when he complained -- imagine if he'd heard the song that features the lyrics "the people with the money make this ever-loving world go round" and "the customers are buying, the PR people are lying, who cares if a few trees are dying?" There's even a "Too Big to Fail" mention.
But kids are smart enough to understand that the message of "The Lorax" isn't that no one can have a business, but that it's smart to be judicious with natural resources. They might be less understanding with the overlong, jumpy plot that drags in spots. Ted and Audrey aren't that interesting, and the filmmakers saw fit to add in endless scenes of Ted's eternal commutes in and out of town. But White's Grammy is delightful, the songs are catchy, and the dazzling colors and shapes of the Seussian universe, shown in 3-D of course, spill out on the screen like a basket of jelly beans.