“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees!”
So says this movie that’s rated PG’s.
It’s based on a book from this guy Dr. Seuss,
Not Homer, not Grimm Brothers, not old Mother Goose.
It follows the story reasonably well,
Or at least so they say, and so I can tell.
It’s about a young lad who lives in a place
Without trees or shrubs (a dismal disgrace)
And goes out to look for a real live tree
To give to a girl he’d much like to see.
But the trees are all gone, or so says the Once-ler,
He cut them all down, just like a dunce-ler.
The Lorax warned him through his bushy mustache,
But would Once-ler listen? No. He liked the cash.
The Lorax shows the world at its worst,
And it could be a favorite of the folks at Earth First!
But here at Plugged In we’ll address other things,
The bravery, the violence, the dents and the dings.
Read on if you’d like, read on if you will,
We’ll talk of The Lorax ’til you’ve had your full fill.
We’ll watch for immodesty and make note of the fights,
And then we’ll stop writing and bid you good night’s.
The Lorax has already generated a bit of controversy, with Fox Business commentator Lou Dobbs taking it (and The Secret of Arrietty) to task for trying to “indoctrinate our children.” And there’s no question that The Lorax offers viewers an unmistakable (and at times even heavy-handed) environmental message.
But while some older viewers may find The Lorax to be the vanguard of an environmentalist “Occupy Kiddie Theater” movement, the kiddies themselves—particularly the little ones—will probably not be inspired to picket the local widget factory. The explicit message of the film is that trees are kinda cool. And if a man were to cut every last one down, well, then he would be quite a fool.
Now I’m no expert, but I think most folks from across the political spectrum would say that a world without trees would be a sadder, emptier place—and not just because we’d all keel over and die from asphyxiation.
Viewers also get other nuggets of wisdom sprinkled around the roots. When the Once-ler drops the last Truffula tree seed into Ted’s hands, he says, “It’s not what it is. It’s about what it can become.” It’s a nice reminder that we’re all works in progress—growing all the time. That’s particularly true of kids, who need care and nourishment, just like the seed. And the film tells us that we can all affect positive change if we work at it hard enough.
The Lorax (called the “guardian of the forest”) might be taken as some sort of divine messenger—rising from a stump in a storm of cloud and lightning, and leaving the depleted forest by floating into the clouds. The planting of a tree is accompanied by a gospel-sounding tune that includes the refrain, “Let’s celebrate the world’s rebirth.”
Animated characters wear bikinis. Ted dreams of kissing Audrey—but never quite pulls it off.
Truffula trees suffer the worst abuse in The Lorax, and the sight of such extreme deforestation (paired with dramatic music) may disturb the youngest of moviegoers. But the film’s assortment of fauna don’t get off scot-free, either—though while we’re supposed to feel sorry for the trees, the violence perpetrated upon humans and animals is presented as merely animated slapstick.
Ted is repeatedly roughed up—even by his friends. Audrey flips the kid down on the ground, and when Ted tries to make contact with the Once-ler, he’s kicked with a mechanical boot and repeatedly lifted with (and dropped by) a set of very Seussian pincers. To get to the Once-ler’s house, he must dodge a gauntlet of wrecked machinery loaded with dangerous blades, and he’s eventually forced to escape his walled hometown (Thneedville) using perilous means. He falls down a hill and is threatened and chased by Mr. O’Hare, a tycoon who sells the city’s air—now also in bottles!
The Lorax punches Once-ler in the nose (accidentally) and sends his bed down the river (on purpose, but without any real malicious intent). The Lorax and a bevy of woodland creatures are forced to rescue Once-ler and a stowaway Bar-ba-Loot bear when the bed takes a turn toward a waterfall. (The Once-ler saves the bear, but he himself needs to be revived with a shock of static electricity.) A donkey occasionally kicks people. Other animals make threatening moves toward the Once-ler (one slapping a bat-like stick in its hand) before they’re distracted by … marshmallows. Once-ler drops an ax on a bear (trying to convince the Lorax that the bear chopped down a Truffula tree). Bears are thrown like footballs and run into trees. While mistaking the Once-ler’s Aunt Grizelda for a man, the Lorax and she almost come to blows.
The head of a statue gets sliced off. Cars crash.
There’s an unfinished “what the …?” and a use or two each of “gosh” and “darn.” Name-calling includes “weirdo,” “idiot,” “loser,” “dirt bag,” “beanpole,” “furry meatloaf” and “crazy baby man.”
None, though commercials for Mr. O’Hare’s bottled air mimic (and mock) the over-the-top glamour we sometimes see in real-world ads for beer.
Once-ler appears to not have had a very good upbringing. His mother and other relatives openly mock him. Then, when he becomes a big success, his mother embraces him—telling him that she always believed in him. Her doubt, she says, was simply her way of trying to motivate him. But when harvesting Truffula tufts begins feeling a little tedious to the family (now the Once-ler’s employees), Once-ler’s mother tells her boy that he needs to start cutting down whole trees. “You have to do what’s good for the company!” She says. “And your mamma!” And finally, when all the trees are gone (thus eliminating Once-ler’s business), the whole clan packs up and leaves—with Once-ler’s mother telling him that she’s very disappointed in him.
Once-ler breaks a promise to the Lorax and the rest of his woodland friends. A bird lays an egg in one of Once-ler’s bowls (grossing him out). Folks hurl tomatoes at Once-ler; someone breaks his guitar. The Lorax brushes his teeth with Once-ler’s toothbrush. We witness incredibly poor eating habits. Ted dashes through a bathroom, disrupting a guy’s shower. (We hear a yelp and see a head poking out of the curtain.)
So, just why did Once-ler need to cut down the Truffula trees? To make thneeds, of course. And what is a thneed? Why, according to Dr. Seuss:
“A Thneed’s a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!
It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove. It’s a hat.
But it has OTHER uses. Yes, far beyond that.
You can use it for carpets. For pillows! For sheets!
Or curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!”
When paired with Seuss’ illustration, of course—which makes the thneed look like a combination scarf/sweater gone horribly wrong—the author is really saying that the thneed is not particularly useful at all. In the book and the film, it looks about as indispensible as a pet rock.
The Lorax, then, is in some respects a real thneed of a film. Does anyone need to watch it? No. Would someone’s life be markedly better if he did? Of course not. This is not Up. This is not How to Train Your Dragon. The Lorax is competent but not particularly moving or incisive or even hilarious. It’s a movie that—unless you really love or loathe its environmental message—doesn’t do much more than distract the kiddos for 94 minutes.
That sounds overly disparaging for a Dr. Seuss story, I realize, so let me get to the flip side: For families really in need of those 94 minutes of distraction—and aren’t put off by the environmental preachiness—The Lorax is a solid choice. It’s a film that perhaps snags its PG rating only because of the wanton violence we see perpetrated against lumber. It’s mildly funny. It’s cute. It’s got some toe-tapping tunes.
And, of course, no Truffula trees were harmed in its making.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.