Article by: Coop Cooper
A.K.A. The Small Town Critic
Ted (Zac Efron) lives in a fantastical utopian society called Thneedville which is entirely made out of plastic. The citizens live in blissful ignorance, unaware of their resource consumption while they foolishly pay for fresh air provided as a utility by the wealthy entrepreneur, Mr. O’Hare. Ted has a crush on his friend Audrey (Taylor Swift) who is fascinated by stories of mythical trees which used to grow in the city. When Audrey expresses her wish to have a tree, Ted makes it his mission to find her one and exits the enclosed city. He locates an old hermit called Once-ler (Ed Helms) who knows the secret behind the disappearance of the forests. The Once-ler tells Ted his story about meeting a creature called the Lorax (Danny DeVito), the appointed guardian of the forest who does not take kindly to tree theft and pollution. It soon becomes clear to Ted that the remorseful Once-ler may have had something to do with the destruction of the trees.
This being a Dr. Seuss adaptation, you can expect the computer animated cartoon to be aimed at a very young crowd. Luckily, the humor stays above the potty level usually reserved for this age group. The jokes are witty, clean an well-timed. There are also a few above-par musical numbers and appropriately cute characters get into harmless hijinks. The only bothersome part of the story is the deep guilt it suggests all humans should feel because of how we utilize natural resources. Nobody can argue against responsible conservation and the message is well-meaning, but the film ultimately pegs industry and business as inherently evil. Because of this, the film walks a very thin and partisan line. It doesn’t allow for any grey areas, which is a difficult but necessary concept for children to understand.
Similarly, the recent “Muppet” film made a comical villain out of the energy industry, but the theme behind “The Lorax” takes the issue a bit more seriously. Environmental messages are all well and good but conservation, supply/demand, innovation and industry are not concepts to be painted in black and white as Seuss suggests. Likewise, portraying humans as stupid lemmings who are in constant need of a moral compass is a depressing and pessimistic lesson for a kid. If children grow up thinking that all it takes to change an ignorant mind are good intentions and a song, fantasy will be their only defense when their ideals are challenged.
“Give a hoot, don’t pollute” is a good message everyone can get behind. It doesn’t lay unfair blame. I even appreciate the final Seuss quote in “The Lorax” which says, “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” It’s a motherly kind of guilt-trip, but I do not disagree with it. I do take issue with manipulating kids into feeling guilty about (or outright despising) the jobs their parents might perform or the companies that provide for them. The whole “Cutting down trees = bad. Planting trees = good” is far too simplistic a message to be valid, even if it’s only for young children.
If I had watched that film with a child under my care (as I did many times with the students I have taught), I might ask them afterwards what they got out of it. If all they gleaned from it was the simple message, I might create a teachable moment for them and see if they have any knowledge about where all of their toys, clothes, food, etc… comes from. In the gentlest way possible, it might make them think a bit to know the chair they are sitting in came from a tree, their clothing came from cotton plants and how many people they know have jobs harvesting those items for people who need them. Giving them both sides of an argument so they can figure it out on their own can be a powerful learning experience, much better than letting a cartoon tell them what to think.
Kids do need to learn social responsibility and movies like “The Lorax” can provide much more than amusing entertainment. Other Dreamworks animated films like “Kung-Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon” teach tolerance, self-confidence and individualism and they do so in admirable ways. While “The Lorax” was a quality film, I wish it had been able to accomplish the same as its predecessors without dumbing down a complex issue for children. Perhaps films aimed at children should stick with premises like “bullying is bad” and “help the helpless”. Those noble sentiments are easily defendable, but teaching kids to lay blame on entities that are generally helpful to society feels like a low blow.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 stars