Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Lorax

I am a child of Dr. Seuss. My Dad used to read The Best Nest and Green Eggs and Ham to me when I was a little girl, and I knew them so well I would catch him skipping parts when he thought I was falling asleep and make him go back and re-read them correctly. And while a number of Dr. Seuss books were made into cartoon specials, the one I remember the most is The Lorax.

The Lorax was an early condemnation of industrialization because of it's negative impact on the natural world. Global warming and climate change are constant topics on the current political landscape, but Dr. Seuss was an environmentalist before his time and his desire to protect nature was the central theme of The Lorax. I remember crying when the last truffula tree got chopped down, and the sad procession of barbalutes, swami-swans and hummingfish leaving the wasted landscape made my heart hurt.

I found the original cartoon through the magic of Google. THIS is The Lorax I met as a child.

I was excited when Universal Studios made an updated version of my favorite Dr. Seuss classic and I checked it out at my local multiplex last night. While the movie remained mostly true to the original premise of The Lorax story, there were some updates needed to make it into a full length movie which also changed the tone of Dr. Seuss' original message just a bit.

One big change was the structure of the story. The original Lorax begins with the Onceler and his journey to make and sell Thneeds, which creates the need for building and development. By contrast, the movie begins in the spotless and sterile metropolis of Thneedville, which is a complete artifical,  climate controlled world insulated from the devastated natural environment outside it. But there are people in Thneedville that remember trees, especially a beautiful young girl named Audrey who inspires young Ted to find one for her. That journey leads Ted to the Onceler, who recounts the story of how he created thneeds and ruined the environment in the process. In the original story, there was no love story and Ted comes in at the very end of the cartoon, meeting with the Onceler with no explanation as to how he got there.

Of course, Ted's journey to find a tree for Audrey is fraught with danger, especially in the guise of a new villain that was never part of the original story. Mr. O'Hare made a fortune selling air because the people of Thneedville couldn't live in a polluted environment once all the truffula trees were chopped down by the Onceler. In this way, the Onceler's original transgressions created a new industry that becomes the source of new conflict --  to keep the natural world destroyed for those that profit from people living in an artificial one. Since trees produce air, regrowing them would ruin Mr. O'Hare's business. Ted becomes a romantic hero because not only is he trying to impress a girl, he's trying to save the world too. Don't you just love the movies!

But the biggest change in the new film are the two main characters themselves -- the Lorax and the Onceler.

The Lorax LOVES his barbalute buddies!

In the original story, Lorax and the Onceler are firmly against each other from the beginning, while in the movie they are friendly until things go awry. The Lorax is upset the Onceler chops down a truffula tree and tries to get rid of him by sending the sleeping Onceler over a waterfall in his bed! The Onceler decides to try and get along and responds by only harvesting the silk of the truffula trees to make his thneeds, thus allowing the truffulas to continue to live. It works at first and the Lorax and Onceler live in relative harmony, until the thneed business takes off and the silk cannot be harvested fast enough, which escalates the tree chopping until the Onceler has destroyed everything. And in the biggest departure from the original story, the Onceler genuinely seems to regret what he did, making him a much more sympathetic character in the current movie than the original cartoon short.

The movie also ties things up in a nice bow at the end -- but I won't reveal the details because you NEED to see this movie. Let's just say that while the old cartoon short leaves the question open of whether Ted will really change the world, the movie answers the question in a positive way -- and even the Onceler AND the Lorax are both happy again.

In honor of the return of The Lorax, I'm proudly sporting my Lorax t-shirt today!

I found it over 20 years ago when I lived in Virginia Beach and it's been with me ever since.  Just like the message of the Lorax -- because someone needs to speak for the trees.

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