Unless viewers like you compain a whole awful lot, no film’s going to get better. It’s not.
When I first heard Dr. Seuss’ 1971 children’s book The Lorax was becoming a major motion picture, I was filled with childhood nostalgia and filmic hope. A classic work of children’s literature, the book has been a favorite of many for its simple message of respecting the environment and speaking up for one’s personal morals and beliefs in right and wrong.
Though beloved by many, there was a time when the content of The Lorax was called into question and deemed a threat. A northern California school banned the book in 1989 for its implicit political messages of challenging authority and speaking out against consumerism, corporate greed and the forestry industry. Regardless, the book has become a major part of the American psyche, or at least a major aspect of Modern American childhood since 1971.
The age of computer-generated graphics and special effects has given filmmakers a toolbox that allows us to make impossible ideas into filmic realities, so with the popularity of the Harry Potter movie franchise, Hugo’s hefty collection of Academy Awards, and the pleasantly animated Horton Hears a Who! (2008), I had no doubt that Universal Studios was up to the challenge of bringing to life a well-loved children’s book. Boy was I wrong.
Though the March 2 release date of The Lorax coincided with what would have been Dr. Seuss’ 108th birthday, I have no doubt that the imaginative children’s author is rolling in his grave.
For those who may not remember the story, a nameless young boy goes to visit a mysterious figure called the “Once-Ler” to ask about how the world came to its currently dark and dreary state. The Once-Ler recounts arriving at a place filled with Truffula Trees and cute animals, and tells how he began chopping down the trees to create “Thneeds,” a versatile fabric product (“It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove. It’s a hat.”). As Thneeds grew in popularity, so did the need for fluffy tops of the Truffula Trees.
When the Once-Ler chops down the first Truffula tree, the squat, mustached, yellow-and-orange Lorax appears and famously says, “I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please.” The preachy Lorax warns the Once-Ler that his actions are a threat to the trees and the animals who live in the forest, but the Once-Ler continues to chop until there are no more Truffula Trees. His business goes bankrupt, the forest animals are forced to leave and all that is left is a an environmental wasteland. The story concludes with the regretful Once-Ler giving the young boy the last Truffula Tree seed with the hope that he can learn from the Once-Ler’s mistake and create a new world filled with Truffula trees.
The real problem with Universal Studios’ adaptation was that they added too much to this classic plot.
Thneed-Ville, the town that demands more Thneeds, becomes the central focus of the film. The nameless boy in the book becomes 12-year old Ted Wiggens (Zac Efron), who lives with his mother, Mrs. Wiggins (Jenny Slate), and Granny Norma (Betty White). On a tip from his Granny Norma, Ted sneaks out of Thneed-Ville to the Once-Ler, not because he cares about the apocalyptic state of the world, but because his love interest Audrey (Taylor Swift) wishes to have a real tree. In this sense, the environment takes a secondary place to a character’s selfish desire to reinscribe his suburban world.
Perhaps the most glaring addition is of Thneed-Ville Mayor O’Hare, the head of the O’Hare Air corporation that sells the town’s air supply because there are no real trees left. O’Hare worries when he discovers Ted sneaking out of Thneed-Ville trying to get a real tree, because it would bankrupt his business.
Despite these unnecessary additions to the plot, the story the Once-Ler tells is predominately true to the book, and, if anything, the Lorax comes to life in an incredible way that adds to his character. The decision to make Danny DeVito the voice of the Lorax was probably the best creative decision on the part of the casting directors. DeVito brought the appropriate balance of humor and sternness to the character.
When the film returns to the present, the adaptation gets most out of hand. O’Hare discovers through his Big Brother-esque surveillance network that Ted had found a Truffula seed. A high-speed chase ensues that explores the innards of Thneed-Ville, a landscape of advertising gimmicks, sloth and over-consumption. The chase ends in the town center where Ted and O’Hare vie for a mob’s support.
While ultimately, good triumphs over evil, the form did not match the message of thisfilm. Ironically, while The Lorax advocates the rejection of consumerism and gimmicky corporate manipulations, the movie was the corporately sponsored—Hewlett-Packard and IHOP, to name a few—and star-studded product of a consumer society. Even further, the animated Lorax has given his environmental seal of approval in a commercial for Mazda’s CX-5 crossover SUV. Cars with the seal of approval from the environment? For shame, Universal Studios. For shame.
The film debuted in the number-one spot at the box office, making over $70 million during its premiere weekend, presumably because other people, too, were excited to see how Universal Studios would animate Dr. Seuss’ larger-than-life illustrations. I hope that others can see that the film added too much to Dr. Seuss’ tale. The jokes were cheap and forgettable, and there is little hope that the film will be relevant in the coming years.