Movie still from “The Lorax” by Universal/Illumination Entertainment
By Jennifer Epps
The new animated feature film The Lorax is both a fable, with a young ingenue hero on a quest to win a princess and save civilization, and an animated comedy full of slapstick and throwaway one-liners. In other words, it fits right into the mass-market animation mold. But it is also an impressively gutsy political satire about a world where corporate rights and unchecked progress — “biggering and biggering”, in Dr. Seuss parlance — have overwhelmed all other values. The movie’s call to action is clear and cogent as well as entertaining, and I think Dr. Seuss, the author of the environmentalist children’s book on which it is based, would be pleased.
Like the narcotized sheeple in Fahrenheit 451, the denizens of Thneedville think they’re happy. Civic government has vanished and the place is run by a business tycoon, but no-one notices because they’re too distracted by their shiny new toys. The citizens are sealed in an artificial world, taking so much delight in their gelatinous blobs of food, their inflatable trees, and their animatronic cats (no litter box smell, I’m sure) that they’ve forgotten things were ever any different — and long ago stopped thinking about the environment at all. Mr. O’Hare, the head of a bottled-air company, is intent on keeping it that way, and so encloses the city with cheery, Truman Show-like backdrops to keep the people from seeing the desolated landscape outside their gates. It takes Ted, a boy on a mission to find some real greenery for the crush-worthy girl next door, to challenge O’Hare’s hegemony.
Now, some of you may be thinking that doesn’t sound much like The Lorax that you remember. The March edition of Wired magazine went so far as to create their own rhyming Lorax comic strip — before seeing the film, apparently — and bemoan the addition of a love interest to (in the words of Wired) “leaven all the hectoring about the evils of industrialization”. But if a romantic subplot is in and of itself a sell-out, then Ken Loach is a Hollywood hack. (British filmmaker Ken Loach’s leftist dramas generally have a love story in the midst of their urgent political statements about serious topics like homelessness, alcoholism, family violence, construction workers’ rights, Tony Blair’s railway privatization, the L.A. janitors’ strike, contractors in Iraq, and not only the Irish but also the Spanish and the Nicaraguan Civil Wars.) Yes, it’s true, none of the storyline about Ted, O’Hare Air, and Thneedville society is in Seuss’ 1971 original. You know why? It’s a picture book. It’s only a few dozen pages long; a mere 300 or so lines of verse. I’ve loved The Lorax almost my entire life, but the film has 86 minutes to fill. Even the half-hour animated TV special of 1972 had to stall for time.
And the new feature only deviates by adding — Seuss’ original plot is still intact. The Lorax (Danny DeVito) is still a mythical woodland creature, he still appears to the Once-ler (Ed Helms), an entrepreneur who cuts down Truffula trees to manufacture Thneeds (an inexplicable product that everyone thinks they need). The Lorax still goes into exile when the forest is denuded. The Once-ler still feels absolute horror when he realizes what he has done.