Most critics who didn’t like this film complained that it “isn’t Dr. Seuss enough.” But that’s a confusing complaint. The Chicago Reader’s Ben Sachs argues that the film, a computer-animated adaptation of a tree-loving 1971 children’s book, replaces a lot of the Seussian “sweet nonsense” with “smug pop-culture references and feeble one-liners,” though he also thinks the film represents a kind of “sheer hypocrisy” because it turns the good doctor’s screed against corporate greed into a toy commercial. (It’s good to remember that Seuss’s attack on deforestation was a best-selling book, which is a bit hypocritical in and of itself.) NPR critic David Edelstein also disdains the animators’ decision to wrap Seuss’s allegory inside contemporary trappings, though he notes that the book isn’t really one of Seuss’s best. So, if we’ve got this right, in order to please its critics, the film ought to have been more nonsensical yet also more pointed and less flashy and enjoyable to match the mediocrity of the original text. To succeed it would pretty much have to fail.
So, maybe this is not one of the best of the Seuss movies. (That prize goes to The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, which Seuss made himself, though it doesn’t look much like any of his books.) This film, about a boy who meets a creature known as the Once-ler who’s responsible for denuding a wilderness and replacing it with an artificial paradise, is a happily dark environmental fable wrapped inside day-glo animation, with video-game action scenes and calls for planting trees and raging against machines. It drags a little in the middle, but it’s wildly popular with the kids.
And if it isn’t completely faithful to the source, so what? Dr. Seuss’s long, happy career was based on a deep conviction that you can learn things — like reading — while having fun. If he were alive today, he would hate the smell of pedantry that accompanies complaints about making his books hip and current for the kids today. He liked flashy stuff, and it’s my belief that the doctor would approve of this Lorax.