I was probably the only person wiping away tears at the end of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax movie, because beyond the pure, laugh-out-loud entertainment value, there is possibly too much truth for our culture to bear.
I remember reading the original book, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, as an adult and thinking immediately, “Wow, this is not a children’s book…” Compared to the whimsical, non-messages contained in The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, certainly The Lorax has a lot to say. Dr. Seuss, I know now, was quite the activist and has cultural messages in a number of his books, but I wasn’t familiar with them back then.
The movie is similar. I wished I could pause it and break it down with my 6-year-old, who is incredibly mature but still could only partially follow the basic plot and caught only some of the underlying messages. “This is not a children’s movie,” continued to replay in my head from the moment about 4 minutes into the film when the main character, Ted, demonstrates his romantic crush on Audrey (named after Dr. Seuss’s wife in real life).
This is not a children’s movie.
It may be animated, but even more so than other animated films of our age that are geared as much for adults as for kids, I believe The Lorax movie should be for ages 8 and up, and even then, only with an interested and wise adult wielding a remote and not afraid to use the pause button.
The Lorax movie will (and should) be deconstructed by high school and college students everywhere. There are so many layers and lessons packed into the brightly colored, animated package.
For those of you parents who like to keep a tight rein on children’s viewing habits, you’ll want to know that there are also dark, scary parts, the word “stupid” a few times, and a chase scene in which even the “good guys” do mean things and participate in name-calling. I would never take a child under six to see it, period.
If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t like spoilers, stop reading now.
The main character, Ted, decides to try to find a real Truffula tree to impress a girl, Audrey. They live in Thneedville, a city surrounded by a cement wall where everyone has to purchase bottled air, and there is no soil and nothing alive other than the people and their pets.
Everyone is happy, and everything is fake.
The head honcho in the city, a tiny man name O’Hare, sells the air. He plays the evil villain of the film, because any progress toward returning to nature would spell the end of his wealth.
In Ted’s quest to find the Truffula tree, he has to venture outside the city and talk to the Once-ler, whose tale makes up the bulk of the movie’s plot line.
As a young man, the Once-ler set off to claim his fortune making thneeds, which he fashioned from the tufts of the Truffula trees. After cutting down the first tree, he meets the Lorax, who “speaks for the trees” and tells him he mustn’t cut them down, or the wrath of nature will come upon him.
The Once-ler eventually promises not to cut down any more trees and tries unsuccessfully for a long time to sell his product. Finally in a stroke of dumb luck, the society decides that a thneed is actually great, and suddenly everyone must have one.
The enterprise grows and trees are cut. All of them . With the natural world trashed, the people must rely on purchased clean air and remain inside the walls of the city.
Enter Ted, who receives the last Truffula seed from the Once-ler after having an eco-conversion of his own, determined to save the earth, expose corporate corruption, and win Audrey’s heart. Typical teenage optimism and idealism…
Too Close to Home
These are the topics I loved that the Lorax movie mercilessly picks on. I probably appreciate them more than most because I live a bit outside of the pop culture (she says with a voice dripping with sarcasm):
- Short attention spans – I think they even blamed it on television – so true!
- Plastic grass and plants – we may think we’re growing living grass on our lawns, but how many pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and GMO crops can we use before the lawns/fields may as well be made of plastic?
- The newer, shinier thing with more bells and whistles was always “needed” by everyone. Consumerism at its finest.
- Selling bottled air – I cannot tell you how much this cracked me up, since the bottled air was clearly supposed to be an over-the-top ridiculous figment of the imagination, but also a sharp shot to the bottled water industry. I’m willing to guess that when Dr. Seuss wrote the original Lorax book in 1971, he never would have guessed that over 200 billion bottles of water would be purchased in a single year worldwide.
- I talked about the food comedy the other day in my post about teaching kids to identify real food: the fakey, Jell-O like food, the Empty O’s cereal, the marshmallows making the woodland animals submissive and stupid (because fake food is addictive…). It was a real foodie’s nightmare, which made it a dream to watch and laugh at…only because it was so true.
- Only the grandmother is old enough to remember nature the way it should be – a lesson for all of us, that our grandparents, or maybe our greats or great-greats, should be teaching us about food, gardening, and community.
- Big, fancy, exhaust-pumping cars are at least as important as the people in the town, if not more so.
- The power of big business and the fervent goal of seeking profit at the expense of human health is a huge parody in the movie.
- Big business (which may as well be big government; my son thought the O’Hare character was surely the mayor as well as the air selling guy) traps the oblivious common person with propaganda.
- How ridiculous and impractical the thneed is – and that everyone HAD to own one! It’s what I see in magazines in every checkout line, in my opinion.
- The blatant disdain for nature that the Once-ler’s family displays when they are called to help him run his business. I see the attitude in real people who could care less about the environment all across the nation.
I grabbed the book version of The Lorax from the library, just to see what the movie might have added, and I have to say I agree with the choice of making the Once-ler (the guy who cuts down all the Truffula trees) a human instead of a faceless who-knows-what with green arms. It is, after all, the human race who is capable of making choices evil enough to bring the natural world to its knees. I also appreciate that, unlike in the book where the Once-ler is immediately evil, the movie portrays a happy-go-lucky, good-hearted guy, who leans a little bit too far into the pot of economics and falls right in.
The book Once-ler cuts down all the trees and blatantly ignores the Lorax character; the movie version makes friends with the Lorax and woodland creatures, even promising never to cut down another tree. His enterprise empire begins with harvesting truffula leaves…or fluff?…tufts?…or whatever is on top that “was much softer than silk, and…had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” (That’s one of the few Dr. Seussian lines that makes it into the film, and you can see it a mile away. But it’s nice, I thought.) After a while, he breaks his promise in the name of efficiency, and the audience can see how he wrestles with good and evil and the choices he’s made. It gives us parents fantastic fodder for moral and ethical conversations with children.
I asked my son and his friend, both first graders, if the Once-ler was a good guy or a bad guy. The correct answer is that he was both, depending on which part of the movie you’re thinking. He’s a real character, starting out with good intentions, leaning too far in the wrong direction, and then coming around to remorse and repentance by the end.
My son and I broke down his character by starting with a conversation from the movie:
The Lorax: Which way does a tree fall?
The Once-ler: I don’t know…Down?
The Lorax, solemnly: A tree falls the way it leans. Be careful which way you lean.
A musical number about “How Bad Can I Be?” ensues, and we’re treated to the great visual of the Once-ler breaking his promise “just a little,” which grows into a massive smoke-belching, river-polluting factory as the figure of the Once-ler literally grows to fill the screen with his wealth and power. By the end of the song, enough time has passed that there is only one Truffula tree left, which gets whacked, effectively destroying simultaneously the natural beauty and sustainability of the earth and the great career of the Once-ler and his Thneed, which everyone needs.
Lorax-Washing and Is it a Good Movie?
I’ve seen a number of quite negative reviews on The Lorax movie, with criticism ranging from the movie being too green and hitting people over the head with conservationism, to the fact that the movie strayed from the original book. I don’t see the problem, honestly.
I have no problem criticizing things, and I’ll pick apart a book or movie until it’s shredded, but as someone who is fighting against the mainstream to save my little corner of the earth and keep the world’s toxins away from my kids, I don’t know that a movie can get “too green.” People need to understand the risks of the lifestyle so many are choosing here in America (and other places, too).
I also think that criticizing a movie for straying from a children’s picture book is both unfair and inconsequential. Any movie made from a picture book would be over in 15 minutes without a considerable amount of artistic license adding to the story. I think that just needs to be expected.
The blogosphere is also specked with criticism of “Lorax-washing,” a twist on the term greenwashing, meaning to pitch a product as “natural” and appeal to the green crowd when it (or the company itself) is far from it. Using the Lorax movie and characters to sell kids’ meals at restaurants, where the nutrition is far from ideal, is missing the point. Even if you throw in a packet of seeds with the French fries and HFCS-laden sodas. Really, selling anything with the Lorax characters is doing the opposite of the message of the Lorax, which most certainly includes anti-materialism and anti-consumerism.
The Lorax-washing is unfortunate, because I think it undermines the credibility of what really is a great movie with a vitally important message.
When we left the theater, although I was still reeling from the irony of the multitudinous, expensive “kids’ packs” filled with fake, processed, and downright poisonous foods, I managed to overhear a young man say earnestly: “Everyone should see this movie.”
I could tell he meant it in the way I was feeling, not that The Lorax was a good movie and highly entertaining – although it is – but that everyone needs to have the message of the Lorax pounded into their heads, and if a brightly animated film can get Americans excited about saving the earth, then so be it!
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.
Between that line and “Be careful which way you lean,” The Lorax has many lessons to teach. I just hope they’re not lost in the tide of consumerism that follows any Hollywood production around.
The only part the Lorax Movie really gets wrong, other than the absolute ease with which Ted and the townspeople fixed their massive problem with one seed, was the demonization of butter.
Everyone said “Ewwwww!” because the obese bear was hanging out in the Once-ler’s refrigerator eating sticks of butter, whole, but I thought the filmmakers would have been wiser to keep to the false food theme –
The Once-ler’s fridge should have been stocked with margarine.
Disclosure: I was able to see the Lorax movie screening for free, but I am in no way obligated to write this post, nor was my opinion paid for. I just had too much to say about this film and couldn’t keep my mouth shut if I tried!! Movie Images provided by Universal Pictures. See my full disclosure statement here.