I remember reading The Lorax in the dentist’s office when I was little. All of Dr. Seuss’ books have some sort of message in them, but none are so obvious as The Lorax. There’s a creature called the Lorax whose sole purpose is to make you feel guilty for cutting down trees. The end. It’s a message we’ve only now decided to take to heart (the book was published in 1971) so this classic story was the logical choice for adaptation as a big budget animated movie:
A young boy braves the wastes outside his perfect plastic city to get a real tree for his girlfriend from the Once-ler, whose factory wrecked forest.
However timely the message, The Lorax was still only a picture book, which means there’s only about 20 minutes of material in there at most. I wondered: what would they fill up the extra time with? The answer is: some original songs, a few clichés, and quite a bit of really apt satire. It’s not unlike Wall-E, but bonkers and aimed at a younger audience.
If you remember the book, the nameless boy in The Lorax came from a regular town (well, regular in a Dr. Seussian way – most of the houses still looked like they came from a MC Escher painting). In the film version, Ted (Zac Efron) is from Thneedville – an town made entirely of plastic where their mindset is: “why would we need a real one when the fake ones are so much better!” With no real greenery there’s no photosynthesis, so air is factory bottled and delivered in those blue water cooler jugs, which is a not-so-subtle poke at our obsession with bottling water.
“Our research says that if you put something in a plastic bottle, people will buy it.”
Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle) of O’Hare air, has a pretty sweet gig going – the more he runs his factories, the worse the air gets and the more he makes on bottled air. So when Ted decides to sneak out of town into the wasteland beyond the walls to find a real truffula tree to win over Audrey (Taylor Swift), girl next door, O’Hare becomes the villain of the story.
We must stop this thing that makes air for free!
In order to keep Audey, Ted’s mother (Jenny Slate) and Ted’s Grammie (Betty White) in the story, the Once-ler who lives in the creepy boarded up house outside of town will only tell him the story of trees over a period of several days, meaning he has to keep going back home for threats, parental advice, grandma jokes, and girlfriend longing.
If I have a complaint, it’s that the women in this story are almost incidental and that everyone is white.
Ted is the main character, but much of the screen time is taken up by the young Once-ler (Ed Helms) as the old Once-ler tells Ted how it came to be that there are no more truffula trees. The rejected son of an overbearing mother, Oncie set out in his wagon to prove everyone wrong about him. He found the tuffula forest, chopped down a tree, and out of its tuft he made his world-changing invention: the Thneed.
Which is a multi-purpose thing everyone needs but doesn’t really
… sort of like the latest accessory from Hot Topic
Chopping down that one tree releases a fuzzy orange creature called the Lorax (Danny DeVito) who speaks for the trees. The Lorax manages to convince the Once-ler to stop cutting down trees and respect the forest.
Cutting down trees is bad, mmmm-kay?
But Once-ler’s promise lasts only as long as it takes his family to get there, at which point he chops down trees with wild abandon in order to impress them with his success at selling Thneeds. This is a really great part where the Once-ler does something we’ve all done at some point – convinces himself that what he’s doing isn’t that bad. The only difference is that we don’t usually do it in song.
“How bad can it be?” he sings “I’m just building the economy!”
So the message is not subtle, though you probably can’t afford to be when you’re talking to the five year olds this movie is aimed at. And for adults, there are a million clever little touches that ARE subtle in poking at our mindsets and lifestyles. There’s the bottled air/bottled water parallel, plus if you look closely you’ll see that Ted eats a cereal called Empty Os which promises 13 addictive plastics and that the Once-ler’s company slogan is “Too Big to Fail.”
And let’s not forget the New World parallel of showing up out of nowhere
and ruining land out from under someone else
Wall-E had this undercurrent of satire too, but the big difference between the Lorax and Wall-E is that while Wall-E makes sense as a contained entity, The Lorax is a complete blenderized nut-fest of nonsensical elements. Tardis-like tents that expand into condo towers, trees that look like drinking straws topped with cotton candy, fish that sing in concert, and a furry orange peanut that pops out of tree stumps, all of which appeals to much younger children who have no sense of reality yet.
I never realize how much of an acid trip Dr. Seuss books are until I see them in movie form.
So do I recommend The Lorax? Heck yeah. It’s funny, clever, and completely insane. It’s unsubtle, rhyming message: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better, it’s not,” will not be lost on little kids like Wall-E’s might. The movie also makes it clear that even little kids making a small gesture like planting a tree can make a big difference.
Dr. Seuss is planting a seed here, as it were
So even if your kids are only two or three, go ahead and bring them. They’ll LOVE it, and you’ll be chuckling too. You might even tear up a little in a few places. I did. Just be prepared for them to beg for a ball-scooter like Ted’s afterward, because that thing is awesome.