“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
– Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
The famously classic children’s author Dr. Seuss wrote and published The Lorax in 1971. Brilliantly colorful and starkly desolate, the images paint precise pictures in the inventive minds of children and even the cynical minds of adults who can be bothered to sit down to read a Dr. Seuss book to a child.
Theodor Seuss Giessel would have turned 108 in 2012. To mark the occasion, Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment released a computer-animated, 3D musical comedy film based on the book, which debuted in theaters March 2.
It is a common trend, for avid Dr. Seuss fans, both big and small, to be skeptical towards these adaptations. It’s difficult to translate the personal emotion and connection of a book into a film, which leaves no room for interpretation. Visual and thematic expectations are not easily met by Hollywood and many translations simply fall short.
However, screenplay writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul manage to successfully maintain the message of The Lorax, in spite all the additional content needed to form this timeless story into an updated, urbanized and modernized 86-minute film that would appeal to a new generation of Truffula chasers.
The story follows the conflict between greedy businessman, the Once-ler, and the environmental-crusader-slash-mustachioed-tree-gnome, the Lorax. The tension between entrepreneurial interests and reasonable land use echoes through the decades, if possible, more poignantly than when The Lorax first hit the shelves.
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
Like all Dr.Seuss books, an important moral lies hidden in plain view. The Once-ler cuts down the Truffula Trees to harvest the Truffula tufts to produce an unnecessary but popular invention called the Thneed. The production of thneeds expands quickly and as the trees are cut down, the ecosystem of clean air, water and food deteriorates, forcing the relocation of the indigenous brown bar-ba-loots and swomee-swans and humming-fish.
A major difference between the book and the movie involves the relationship the audience has with the Once-ler. His face is never visible in the book, and most pages merely reveal his long thneed-sewing arms.
In the movie, the (elderly) Once-ler tells the story of when he was a young man. As his tale unfolds, the audience cautiously grows to sympathize with the young Once-ler who has set out into the world to find fame and fortune. Musical numbers and slapstick theatrics help to move the story along, and the Once-ler dances and sings a catchy capitalist tune as his machines decimate the landscape. The Once-ler of the movie is adequately reminiscent of the mysterious benefactor of the book: an honest young man with good intentions who is prompted and persuaded by his greedy family to expand his tree-cutting business.
“I meant no harm. I most truly did not. But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got,” says the Once-ler.
The Lorax, ever the ridiculous voice of reason, tries reason with the Once-ler that the loss of the trees and the industrial noise, fumes and waste are harming the land and living things. The Once-ler responds with a sarcastic melody, repeating, “How Bad Am I?” and in a not-so-subtle way he refuses to apologize for his reckless behavior and plans to continue to behave recklessly, regardless of the consequences to anyone besides himself.
The factory smoke has infected the air with smog, the fresh water is now dirty, the Truffula Trees are gone, its fruits no longer a viable link in the food chain. With the final chop of the last Truffula tree, Thneed production comes to a standstill. The well runs dry.
The Once-ler’s family quickly abandons him; probably setting off to behave irresponsibly and selfishly in pursuit of almighty profit.
The movie mimics perfectly one of the most important scenes of the story, when the Lorax lifts himself by his bum and flies away through a hole in the smoggy sky, leaving the Once-ler alone in the grey, smoggy world he created.
In the film version, a perimeter wall encircles the nearby city, so that the townspeople are trapped in a kind of consumer dystopia, unaware that their sheltered-but-prosperous existence comes at the expense of large-scale deforestation outside the city walls. Thneedville is controlled by the mad businessman, Mr. O’Hare, whose fortune was made selling fresh air in bottles to the smoggy city population.
A young boy, Ted Wiggins, tries to impress a girl (whose birthday wish is to see a real tree) and escapes the city limits only to find the anti-social Once-ler still held up in his factory. The aged Once-ler has spent many years as a hermit contemplating past mistakes. He is a changed person from his days as a brash young man. Understanding at last that the demands of the moment sometimes blind us to the damage we cause to those around us, the Once-ler’s remorse is at long last expressed when Ted happens by.
At the end of the tale, readers feel the Once-ler finally understands what the Lorax tried to teach him all those years ago. In both versions, the Once-ler bestows on the boy the last Truffula Tree seed (in the world!) to repopulate the landscape with multi-colored Truffulas. The book leaves it there, with the possibility that he will plant the seed, but no certainty that the lazy kid will ever get around to it. The movie elaborates to depict Ted getting the girl, bonding with his hippie grandmother and beating the antagonist CEO to plant a real tree in the middle of town.
Whatever the medium, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax helps instill thoughtful and worldly values in our young children. The story inspires questions and conversations that can only increase awareness and knowledge of such large concepts in bite-sized, conceivable doses. Since Dr. Seuss tends to write specifically for young children, it’s interesting to access how these very reactionary tiny people react to the film.
Amanda Waldron watched the movie with her three-year-old daughter, Isla, and her account of their experience merely confirms what all of Dr. Seuss’ stories primary goals are…to teach you about the world. Make you think. Make you care.
Waldron explained, “Isla was very upset about the trees being cut down. She really didn’t like that the Once-ler kept cutting them down after the Lorax begged him not to. She was very upset by the bears and fishies losing their homes because the Once-ler made the trees go away and made the water and air dirty.”
Waldron mentioned she liked that the story emphasized the importance of taking responsibility for actions and that actions have consequences.
Another mother of two, Shandra Koch watched Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax with her daughter, Evelyn, and revealed, “We really loved the movie. It touched my heart. Evelyn was glued to the TV the entire time.”
Codie Bailey Nelson and her young daughter, London, enjoyed the movie, especially the song, “How Bad Can I Be.”
When it comes to children’s literature, there can be no higher praise than the glowing testimonials of three-year-olds everywhere. Someday, when it counts, perhaps they’ll remember the words of the film’s final musical number too, “Let it grow! Let it grow! Let it grow!”