To be clear, this is not a movie review, as I have yet, and probably will not likely, see the new 3D movie adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic, The Lorax. The movie was released at the beginning of the month and had grossed over 70 million dollars in box office receipts, as of this posting, and is temporarily charming zillions of children with its candy-colored dystopian vision of the future. But me, I am going to take a very Grinch-like stance on the film and nervously drum my fingers as the money rolls in for The Lorax cash-counting machine.
Anyone that is familiar with the 1971 children’s book The Lorax knows that the book, while charming the pants off of children for over 40 years, has also touched off all manner of ideological skirmishes as well. Conservative critics have long dismissed The Lorax as a thinly veiled attempt to indoctrinate our children and transform them into little sanctimonious environmentalists who despise capitalism. Recently, conservative TV personality Lou Dobbs attacked The Lorax, in anticipation of the upcoming film adaptation, as “a tree-smooching commie” and as election year politicizing goes, other cultural critics have followed suit, attacking the film for being environmentalist propaganda. But those in the know, and those who appreciate the rhythms, profundity, and moral of Dr. Seuss and his many tales, see this movie adaptation as a mass-market means of getting the message out of environmental stewardship.
Instead what we have (as I could deduce from the many clips, trailers, critiques, and portions of the script I have been privy to) is a high-fructose corn syrup world of candy colors, sight gags, and cynical marketing awash in a heavily diluted environmental message. In this film adaptation we are missing the child as curious naïf and instead we have “Ted” as the tween protagonist who lives in fantastic-plastic synthetic utopia of “Thneedville,” a place where nothing is actually organic or alive, but has the patina of a lifesavers roll. Ted is moved, by his unrequited love for an artsy neighbor girl who longs to see a real tree, to venture into the smogged-up, denuded environmental wasteland that was once a thriving ecosystem and home to the Lorax. There we meet the Onceler, who is the hermetic, and repentant former man of industry whose greed led him to destroy the entirety of the areas flora and fauna. From this point the story of the Lorax is told, madcap adventures and hilarity ensue and an environmental parable gets lost in a series of sexist jabs, high-speed chases, and the sort of humorous mediocrity that passes for children’s entertainment these days.
While it certainly wouldn’t kill me to sacrifice a few hours of my life and suspend disbelief (and cynicism) for the 86 minutes it takes to experience this film, therefore becoming a truly informed critic, I think I will politely decline the opportunity because of other, non-narrative, objections I have with the film as product. The source material for the film, which cautions against abject consumerism, is summarily defiled by the filmmakers (or studio’s) insistence on signing for over 70 different advertising partnerships to promote the film. They are using the image of the Lorax to promote everything from Mazda’s CX-5 SUV, the only car with the “Truffula Seal of Approval,” to IHOP pancakes and Pottery Barn Kids furniture. Yes, the Lorax is promoting a gasoline powered vehicle (not even a hybrid) that is shown happily navigating the truffula-lined roadways of a Seussian forest, with all manner of animals nodding in approval. Our great political satirist Stephan Colbert recently screened the Mazda SUV commercial on the Colbert Report and added a very pointed commentary on the film and its extracurricular revenue streams (see below with Lorax commentary starting at about the 1 minute mark):
So am I being unfair here with either my criticism of this watered-down version of a children’s classic, or its creative ways to exploit the market? Is my heart three-sizes too small and in need of a cuddly hug from a furry 3D CGI Lorax? Have you seen the film? What is your read on all of this?