There is an old animation that tells Dr. Seuss’s story of The Lorax. I’ve watched it several times in my life, but most recently last year in a science class on ecology. Its colourful appearance may seem catered to youngsters, but there are some scarily dark themes that surround the tale.
The same goes for the new, glossy version that is currently in cinemas. There may be an all-star cast (including Taylor Swift, Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Betty White), amazing graphics and a lot of singing and dancing, but it tells the same environmental parable of The Lorax, the Once-ler and the Truffula trees.
I awkwardly sat in the theatre waiting for the film to begin. After all, I was one of the only teens who were voluntarily watching the film, the rest of the cinema taken up by young children and tired parents. I began questioning why I was sitting here — what had compelled me to see a children’s movie? The Lorax, of all things?
It soon became evident that this was not just any animation. The film began with an environmental message from the Lorax, a rather confronting way to start a seemingly light-hearted story. The audience was then taken on an 86-minute journey with Ted (Zac Efron), a 12-year-old boy who is in love with a beautiful, older girl named Audrey (Taylor Swift). Audrey’s love of nature propels Ted on an adventure to find the Once-ler and discover what happened to the Truffula trees, which have long been absent in the artificial and caged-in city of Thneed-Ville.
What is most saddening about this film is that the writers have not wholeheartedly embraced the beautiful language of Dr Seuss’s original, which was expertly used in the Lorax animation from the 1970s. There are very few lines that are taken directly from the original story, and it does not rhyme like other Dr Seuss adaptations. The lack of lyrical wonder also dampens the ever-important environmental message that it seeks to convey.
The Once-ler created a product that he believed everyone needed. Much like today’s society, the population of Thneed-Ville continued to consume beyond nature’s capacity. The Lorax, who speaks for the trees, cries out for help and begs the Once-ler to stop. However, it is not only the Once-ler’s fault; the consumers who purchase the products with the belief that they are essential for their everyday lives are also to blame. The themes that are explored in The Lorax can be interpreted as metaphors for our lives in 2012: things like energy consumption, oil and natural gas exploration and of course logging are all perfect examples of consumers putting their wants ahead of the planet’s needs.
The Lorax isn’t all serious, though. The animation has been done in such a way that it makes you want to reach out and touch the Truffula trees. The Lorax’s moustache would make any Movember supporter proud, and the fact that Ted’s grandmother (Betty White) ends up snowboarding is just plain entertaining. There’s singing and dancing fish, and adorable baby bears. Older audiences will also admire the clever, almost politically incorrect humour that is slipped into the film every now and then, including a “glowing” boy who has presumably been affected by radioactive waste in Thneed-Ville’s main river.
In our increasingly consumeristic society, we can only hope that a Lorax figure of our own confronts us and helps us decide whether we want this planet to exist for our children.