Dr Seuss' The Lorax, Chris Renad, 86 mins (U)

An ecological fable ... padded out with industrial levels of filler

Hollywood keeps foisting Dr Seuss adaptations on us, whether live-action (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Cat In The Hat) or animated (Horton Hears A Who!), but they all trip over the same hurdle, which is that most films take about 90 minutes to watch, whereas Dr Seuss's books take about nine minutes to read. His eco-fable, The Lorax, is especially short and sweet. It begins with a boy trekking through a barren landscape to visit a hermit called the Once-ler. The Once-ler tells the boy how, in his youth, he was chopping down a tree when an orange furry gnome, the Lorax, materialised and scolded him for despoiling the natural world. But the Once-ler didn't listen, hence the barren landscape. The End.

The makers of Dr Seuss's The Lorax expand this scenario into a full-length cartoon by shovelling in industrial quantities of filler. One sequence has the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) dropping the Once-ler (Ed Helms) into a river, while he's in bed, and then racing to stop the bed going over a waterfall because a bear cub is sitting in it, too. The film-makers couldn't have padded out the book more blatantly if they'd used foam rubber.

And if it weren't painful enough to see Dr Seuss's story being stretched to breaking point, the screenwriters have also added a whole new story featuring the boy (Zac Efron) who hears the Once-ler's tale. He, it seems, lives in a futuristic city constructed entirely of plastic, right down to the inflatable vegetation. When his dream girl (Taylor Swift) mentions her desire to see a real, live tree, he ventures beyond the city walls in search of the fabled Once-ler – but his quest sets him at odds with a fat cat who sells bottled air.

After a promisingly satirical opening musical number, the sequences in the plastic city feel padded, too. But they do at least have some pace and plotting, so the director might have been better off using them as the basis of a bright, zippy sci-fi cartoon, and getting rid of the Lorax altogether. (Not since Waiting For Godot has a title character contributed so little to the action.)

As it is, the film keeps cutting back and forth between the boy's adventure and the Once-ler's reminiscences, bringing each section to a standstill again and again.

Dr Seuss's The Lorax is a joyless, soulless product, notable only for the directness of its anti-capitalist, environmentalist message. And even that's problematic. Are children really going to learn much about the value of nature from a candy-coloured, computer-generated, Murdoch-owned cartoon which encourages the use of plastic 3D glasses, and finishes with the most artificial of auto-tuned pop songs?

Critic's Choice

Fasten your seat belts and expect a touch of Vertigo as the mammoth retrospective The Genius of Hitchcock kicks in at London’s BFI Southbank, through until October. Also, Patricio Guzman’s extraordinary star-gazing documentary Nostalgia for the Light vaults poetically between the cosmos elusive star and the Pinochet years in Chile.