Pass on The Lorax.

Via S.V. Pillay
on Mar 3, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

I was not thrilled when I found out they were making a movie of my favorite Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax.

Nonetheless, I was curious.

If you recall, the story is about a fantastical forest of Truffula trees—pinks, yellows, and oranges popping off the page—and all sorts of curious animals that inhabit this forest, such as Bar-ba-loots, Humming Fish, and Swomee-Swans.

As the story goes, a strange green creature named the Once-ler comes upon the truffula trees. And he sees an opportunity to get rich. A truffula tree’s tufts are “softer than silk and have the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” Such exquisite material excites the Once-ler, so he chops down his first tree and knits what he calls a thneed (thing+need?).

And then the Lorax pops out of the stump. The Lorax is a tiny, sage-like creature who speaks for the trees. But nothing, not even the Lorax, can stop the Once-ler from cutting down the Truffula forest and building factories that spew toxic waste. The message of the book is simple, really: unbridled industrialism fueled by greed mucks up—and eventually destroys—the natural world. The Lorax is not a rosy tale, by any means.

In the movie, however, the simple message of the book is obscured by a stream of sub-plots that are neither in the book nor in the 1972 made for TV movie, which is actually pretty cute (and short).

The Lorax 2012 takes place in a town called Thneedville, a Truman Show-esque walled in community where hidden cameras monitor the citizens. Only plastic trees exist in Thneedville. But the thing is, everyone seems happy. In fact, the movie opens with the whole town singing a song about how great the town is. Everyone is just fine without trees, except for Audrey (Taylor Swift). She is the only one that is interested in seeing a fabled truffula tree. She even has a mural of them in her backyard. Then there’s Ted (Zac Efron). Ted has a crush on Audrey and, above all, wants to make her wish of seeing a truffula tree come true. But this, as the viewer discovers, is a quest fraught with peril.

Thneedville is controlled by a greedy corporation that sells bottled air called O’Hare (am I missing a bad pun here?). The CEO of O’Hare is a two-foot tall Asian man (I’m not kidding). I cringe to think that Mr. O’Hare, with his mafia boss voice, might be a symbol for everything negative we associate with China. Why else would they make him Asian? Maybe I’m overthinking it. I do have an active imagination. As do the writers of this script, apparently.

The bottled air seems more like a luxury item than a necessity, but everyone in Thneedville uses bottled air, ostensibly because there are no trees that can make clean air. This is why Mr. O’Hare is threatened by Ted’s quest. Trees are competition for his business.

Yeah, I need someone to draw me a plot diagram.

Ted’s preteen-hormone-fueled mission to gratify Audrey propels most of the action in the movie. He takes mad physical risks to make it out of Thneedville –which no one has ever done apparently– to find the rumored Once-ler and to hear about the truffula trees.

By the way, it’s Ted’s Grammy (Betty White) who goads him into seeking out the Once-ler. I’d like to know what kind of grandmother encourages her grandchild to pursue such a life threatening goal. Moreover, does she know who this Once-ler is? What if he’s a pedophile?

Ted rides his moped fast and crazy out of town. As I said, Thneedville is walled in, but this twelve-year-old makes it out in no time and with relative ease. Once he’s outside the walls, the landscape is as dreary as the opening pages of the book. Except in the film, Ted has to dodge mechanical swishing axes strategically placed on the side of the road, to escape from, um, being decapitated. This was a major facepalm moment for me.

I don’t remember the Lorax being an adrenaline-fueled extravaganza. Moreover, as a child, I don’t recall ever needing such a rush in my entertainment. Do kids today really need over-the-top action sequences injected so profusely into movies and TV shows? Apparently Hollywood thinks so. Even the Scooby Doo series and the Super Friends cartoons I used to watch after school weren’t this jam packed with excitement. The Lorax movie suffers from overdoing; overdoing the singing, dancing, screaming… overdoing pretty much everything.

And in the midst of all the chaos, Dr. Seuss’s poetic language is but an afterthought.

It is not only the constant stimulation that is unnerving about this film, but also the utter lack of mystery. In the book, the Once-ler is a creature whose face is never shown. But in the film, the Once-ler is a regular human chap, who is actually quite likeable. And in the end, his atrocities are, ultimately, forgivable. Ironically, it is the Once-ler, and not the Lorax, who comes across as sage-like.

Whereas in the book, the Once-ler is really an outcast, suffering the rest of his days in self-imposed solitary confinement. The end of the book gives us only a glimmer of hope. And that hope is entirely based on the last word of the Lorax, “UNLESS.”

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

However, in the film, a happy ending is all but assured. In fact, it’s already unfolding. The truffula trees are growing back. What a relief! We can relax now. Nothing more to do here, kids!

I must say, though, the animated truffula trees are a visual delight. They were the best part of my movie experience.

Unfortunately, though, the Lorax (Danny DeVito), comes off as a bumbling buffoon. Yes, he’s cute and somewhat goofy, and no doubt angry (he speaks for the trees!) but he is also a wisdom teacher. The Lorax is no less than a guru, but this movie makes him the butt of a joke.

And to me, that was the ultimate travesty. 

I read The Lorax as a child in the 1970s. In fact, the book and I are just about the same age. Its mystery and message have stayed with me for decades. The movie has no such pull. I’m not even sure what its message is. What’s more, the movie’s marketing ploy is a trainwreck. Today the Lorax is pimping pancakes, SUVs, inkjet printers, and yes, even disposable diapers. Ugh.

I say, take a pass on The Lorax 2012. Instead, dust off your copy of The Lorax 1971, and indulge in a real work of art.


About S.V. Pillay

S.V. Pillay is a former high school English teacher and current freelance writer in the great city of Chicago. She enjoys writing about religion, spirituality, art, endangered species, the environment, and social justice. She is American by birth (want to see her birth certificate?), South Indian by DNA, a student of yoga, and a proud Generation X’er. She prefers interactions with real human beings as opposed to social networking. And although she owns her share of MP3s, she still listens to records, tapes, and Cds. S.V. Pillay is currently working on her debut novel, a book of poetry, and a bunch of short stories. Click here to follow her on Twitter. Click here to read more stuff.


16 Responses to “Pass on The Lorax.”

  1. Meghan Brookler says:

    Wow. I hear what you are saying and yet it seems unproductive to steer people away from a film such as this. As a massage therapist (studying to get my MS in Nutrition and Integrated Health,)environmentalist and most importantly, a mother, I took my 2 young children to see this yesterday. While it was full of unnecessary Hollywood touches, the beauty of Dr. Seuss and the message that is instilled was clear to me and my 8 year old. This world is precious. We need the trees, the animals, and the earth. It is up to us to focus on what is important. Money, plastics, toxins, etc are prevalent in this day and age. Many of the masses do not, perhaps, understand this. Perhaps their parents aren't as educated about the issues as say, you or I…and yet, they will walk out of there knowing that something is not right with the way things are. They might even go buy the book or check it out at the library…I say, that is worth some things in this movie that you don't agree with.

    And, please consider, with all the movies "for children" and t.v. shows that are absent of any meaningful message at all, that in fact exploit our children and our world, I am HAPPY to take my kids to see this. Starting a conversation with the kids about what they saw is important. It is a conversation we have in our home everyday. It's true, many of the folks leaving the theater may not be able to speak to what they saw in the movie and yet, I can imagine they have a feeling somewhere in their gut that might actually make them think and consider the bigger picture…life on this planet and the health of our children.


  2. […] response was by Sunita Pillay, a freelance writer for Elephant Journal. Here is the link to her review that ultimately says to pass up seeing the movie: […]

  3. Jennifer says:

    I think something that needs to be said that in any film like this based on a Dr. Seuss book, they have added things. They have to to fill the time of an average movie, which obviously the book can't do on it's own. Also I never got that O'Hare was Asian. He doesn't even look Asian except his hair is black. My self and my boyfriend enjoyed the film and felt the message came through clear.

  4. Thanks, Sunita, for the review. My 11 year old wants to see it and knows the book backward and forward. Without seeing it, I was still dismayed to see the obvious deviation from the book. But have to agree with Meghan that it is still good to see a film with a message. Sometimes we have to let go of the book a film is based on and watch a film for what it is. I will walk in with an open mind. Or just watch it on DVD 🙂

    Posting this to the main facebook page! Cheers!

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Meghan. On the one hand I do see what you're saying, but on the other hand, the degradation of a work of art is more disturbing to me than panning this movie. Also, my outlook on the future of the world's flora and fauna in their natural ecosystems is perhaps more bleak than yours. And I think, ultimately, this is a bleak story. The movie's happy ending just adds insult to injury. Why does every kid's movie have to have a happy-feel-good ending? Why can't children be left perplexed as to what's going to happen with their world? If the truffula trees are already growing back, what's the problem?

  6. Good point, Jennifer. I suppose, then, I just didn't like what was added.

  7. Thanks, Lynn. I'd love to hear your thoughts about the movie. And your son's!

  8. I'm still on the fence since I still have painful flashbacks to the last dreadful contemporary attempts to do Dr Seuss (the Cat in the Hat with Michael Myers and the Grinch with Jim Carey!) I'll stick the great books and earlier animated versions of all three – they're better for my soul. 🙂

  9. Amy says:

    I would have to respectfully disagree. My kids and I loved it. I think the take home message is clear. My kids wanted to garden and plant trees after the movie. Most movies differ from the book. I would encourage parents to take their kids. Enjoy!

  10. oz_ says:

    Meghan, I'm curious: have you shared the book with your child? I think this is the what Sunita was suggesting – that the book in place of the movie would make all the points you noted you think it important to make, but without the ADHD-generating dross.

    Perhaps I was lucky, but my son discovered on his own, early on, that the movie version could rarely compete with the book for creating a time-release sense of wonder.

    It would be quite interesting to know what your 8 year old makes of the book vs the movie.

  11. Just posted to "best of elephant green" and "best elephant review" on Pinterest

    Bob W. Associate Publisher & Head Coach
    elephant journal
    facebook, twitter, linkedIn

  12. Caitlin says:

    I do have to agree with you that the message the movie did try to convey was a little hypocritical considering the marketing campaign it went through to get people to see the darned thing (and trust me, I almost didn't see it because the advertising for it made me cringe).
    But the movie did its job, and that was to -adapt- the Lorax, not completely retell it page by page. And the story itself, while bleak, does have a hopeful ending, so why trounce upon the happy ending that the movie was granted? It's an adaptation for a reason. And as a stand alone product, separate from its source, it still tells a coherent story with a compelling enough message to take home for kids and adults.

  13. veryaudrizzle says:

    Our take on the movie after taking our kids and reading this review:

  14. […] in my childhood. And while most of us are familiar with classics like The Cat in The Hat and The Lorax, one thing you may not know about Dr. Seuss is that he was almost not published at […]

  15. justine says:

    i liked it very much