Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

Recently I made a long move roughly halfway across the world. To combat the intense boredom that comes with ~12 hours of flight, I amused myself by sleeping, listening to music, and watching a few movies.

One of those movies was, of course, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Sadly, my initial (and so far only) impression was disappointment.

Everyone, or at least almost everyone, loves Dr. Seuss. The Lorax has never been one of the most popular stories, but it was still always a fun read. It has been accused of being dark (for a Seuss book), and is very heavy with environmentalism, which is iffy for kids, I think. In general, they tend to be too heavy-handed, as I’ve mentioned before. The Lorax movie is no different.

As I just finished mentioning, I disliked how heavy-handed this movie was, and I’ll get a little more in-depth with that in a moment. The other thing I disliked was how altered the story was from the original.

Now, verily, I do understand how difficult it can be to adapt a 45-page book into a feature-length movie. So they add a jr. high student who’s in love with a senior, a town where everything is plastic, and an egotistical, power-hungry midget. The mish-mash of new story and The Lorax do not mesh well together – they are two different movies, and should have remained as such.

I could have lived with focusing on the background of the Onceler. The parts with his family can be quite amusing, and I wish they had been fleshed out more. His descent from bright-eyed entrepreneur to money-grubbing bad guy is done within one song montage. A montage where he dresses like a crazy villain while singing about how he is a good guy. Even 2-year-olds can’t miss the symbolism.

While we hear the story/descent of the Onceler, we’re dealing with Ted. He’s 12, and head-over-heels for Audrey. She wants to see a real tree, so crazy Grandma tells Ted where to go to find the Onceler. Sneaking outside Thneedville, Ted sees a dark, gloomy wasteland of trees. Far outside, he finds the Onceler and hears the story of how he came to be here.

So. Inside Thneedville, town of plastic, we have Ted; Ted’s grandmother and mother; and O’Hare the billionaire air-made man who has a few issues with control and Big Brother-symptoms. Outside, we have the Onceler. We switch back between the two places, with Ted having to go through increasingly insane measures to sneak past the O’Hare cameras to get outside. We know why O’Hare doesn’t want any trees, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason for him to want to keep everyone inside. If anything, you’d think he’d like to show them the outside so they want to stay inside more.

Between the two smashed stories, I feel like we miss a lot of the original story to develop the comic relief (the animals, who are adorable and awesome), and give the Lorax and the Onceler more camera time. The crux of the original story, where each animal leaves one by one as the environment gets worse, is traded for a song montage. I suppose it’s one heavy-handed image for another, but at least we could claim it was being true to the original story.

Another problem is that The Lorax makes capitalism look bad. The Onceler creates a new product, which helps create and drive a thriving economy. While I understand the “save the environment” message, this is so strong as to say that there’s no room for creativity in life.

In conclusion: The Lorax was a disappointment. As an environmental film there’s nothing different about it. It doesn’t show anything new, doesn’t really make us care about the characters. It’s no Wall-E. The soundtrack features some amazing vocal talent singing silly songs, which can be fun, but this movie has no staying power. It won’t become a classic. Rather, The Lorax will simply become another environmental film failure that shows up in the bargain bin at your local Wal-Mart.

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The Lorax

By Dr. Seuss

Today I saw an ad for a new children’s movie, coming soon! It was colourful, bouncy, environmental… it was Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.

I love Dr. Seuss. His stories are unique and entertaining. Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham. Who hasn’t read these stories? They’re seminal in the literary development of children, and The Lorax is no different.

To me, The Lorax was the Dr. Seuss story I could never find. I still don’t own it as a story on it’s own – I’m not even sure it exists in it’s own paperback. I first read it in a Seuss treasury, and I found it rather dark. The story opens on a desolate, over-industrialized location, where an unseen man/woman/thing called the Once-ler hides behind bordered windows, but is willing to peer out to tell you a story for the right price.

The story of The Lorax is a tale of industrialization. The land is clean, the colours bright and sunny when an entrepreneur sets up shop, and starts cutting down the valuable Truffula trees for his business. As the business becomes more successful, he starts over-cutting. The eponymous Lorax appears, saying that he speaks for the trees and tells him to stop. But the Once-ler keeps on cutting, slowly developing a great industrial marvel while destroying the land. When the last tree is cut, the Lorax takes all the displaced and harmed animals away where they can’t be hurt anymore.

It’s a simple, but effective story. Watch the colour cues, and the way industrialization is dark while the environment is light. All mixed in with Dr. Seuss’ silly drawings; my favorite is his depiction of the garment the entrepreneur makes.

So, back to the movie. Obviously, since it’s not out yet, I can’t really comment, but I admit that I’m a bit concerned. For more movies, the issue fans have is that you are, inevitably, cutting things out. Whereas with Dr. Seuss, we have proven that an entire story can be told in a 30 minute special. The solution is that a lot of extra padding is added, as evidenced by How the Grinch Stole Christmas or The Cat in the Hat. So far, it’s had mixed results.

The Lorax will be done in animation, rather then real life, and the animation looks good! I admit, I will go see it when it comes out. I’m interested to see how they will interpret the story. There will be padding, for sure. But what will they focus the padding on? Will they keep the ending the same? The ending and the beginning is what makes The Lorax so effective.

What do you think? Will you go see The Lorax when it hits theatres? Do you think children’s picture books should be made into movies?

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