A few years ago, two movies with environmental messages came out a few months from each other: Evan Almighty sacrificed comedy for the sake of its message whereas The Simpsons Movie kept its eye on the comedy goal line. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax falls closer to the Evan Almighty camp.
Timed to be released on the 108th birthday of Dr. Seuss himself, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax brings to the big screen an adaptation of his 1971 children’s classic. The folks behind Despicable Me and Hop decided they couldn’t just tell the original story, but instead fill out the story with an “in case you missed the point” framing story which fully beats you over the head with the message stick.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is the story of a young boy named Ted (Zac Efron, Hairspray, 17 Again) who is trying to get a tree to impress the girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift, Valentine’s Day), whom he likes. Their home town of Thneedville is completely plastic and fake. They have to buy (purchase bottled air) or build (battery-operated trees, some of which include a disco setting) nature. The town is perfectly happy with their way of life (disco settings!), however, Audrey has the dream of being able to see a real tree. Ted, a master of his convictions, makes it his mission to get the girl find a real Truffula Tree.
Ted’s Grammy Norma (the awesome in everything Betty White, The Proposal, Hot in Cleveland) directs him to the mythical hermit, The Once-ler (Ed Helms, The Hangover). However, Ted’s quest brings him into conflict with bottled air tycoon, Aloysius O’Hare (Rob Riggle, The Hangover). His is the best bottled air available, fresher than breathable stuff (“Please Breathe Responsibly” <– A CRITIQUE OF THE BUYING BOTTLED WATER CULTURE IN CASE YOU MISSED IT).
The Once-ler’s price to help is to force Ted to listen to his tale of ambitions run amuck, told in parts thus making Ted have to escape his town several times. He tells of him coming to the pastoral pre-Thneedville forest, encountering The Lorax (Danny DeVito, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), but not letting nature get in the way of his manufacturing dreams.
It pads takes a while to recall how he turned a garden of Eden into a technological, pre-fab wasteland, but hopefully no one notices since the movie is filled with catchy songs and eye-popping 3-D. The 3-D experience reminds the audience how great it can be when it’s intentional and incorporated into the movie-making rather than slapped on after the fact. One is practically sucked into the page of the story.
“A tree falls the way it leans. Be careful which way you lean.” –Lorax
The movie’s less than subtle message is that there is a cost to manufacturing, industry, and technology run amuck. Yet the movie teeters on coming across as anti-corporation and anti-capitalist, with the even-less-subtle “How bad can I be?” song being the most egregious offender.
There is an aspect to Christianity that has gone long unattended, a creation spirituality. Thoreau said that “with a keen awareness of the natural world one could find truth”. God has created all things and declared them “good” (even “very good”).
One of the lessons from the Genesis account of creation is that humanity was created to be stewards of creation. Yet, we’ve lost our connection with creation, continuing to develop new ways to either insulate ourselves from it or encroach our brand of civilization into it. Our souls are starved for God’s creation. All spiritual people should enjoy God’s creation, embracing it the way God intended for us.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing will get better.” –The Once-ler
Like The Once-ler’s hope for redemption, the journey begins with repentance, exchanging an old way of life for a new way. The hope is for a New Creation with us being caught up in the story of the completion of that mission. Joining that mission requires us face the cost of our “progress,” to change the way things are, to plant seeds of change, and celebrating the world’s rebirth.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax was punctuated by a couple of other troubling elements: its “til a bunch of hill jacks come and ruin nature” message as well as the non-stop, easy short person jokes. Even leavened by catchy musical numbers, great animation, art direction, and cute animal characters, the movie’s pro-environment message becomes a heavy-handed screed. One which smacks as a little hypocritical considering the amount of corporate tie-ins involved in its marketing campaign. Maybe this is a birthday present Dr. Seuss may want to re-gift.