Like millions of other parents, I’m fond of reading my kids books by Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Many of them are just fun and silly, a lesson in the delights of language, but quite a few have serious moral content, from The Sneetches to Horton Hatches the Egg to How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
So The Lorax is not unique in being didactic. What makes it unique is its overwhelmingly mournful tone. It is unusually long for a Dr. Seuss story, almost 60 pages, and only on the last two pages, in the last two short verses, is there a glimmer of light. But it’s not like the end of The Sneetches or The Grinch, where societies in conflict are healed. The mini-society the Once-ler started — a stand-in for industrial society? — ends in abject ruin, drained of all color and life. There is no redemption, only the faint promise that something might be learned, that the mistakes might be avoided next time. The Once-ler’s story is an elegy.
Which brings us to this rainbow-barf monstrosity:
This, I submit to you, is an insult to all that is good and holy.
First off, Danny f’ing Devito?! No, no, no. The Lorax does not wisecrack. He does not pratfall. He does not delight the audience with shenanigans. He doesn’t intervene in the action at all. What he does is observe. That’s it. He warns of coming tragedy, he chronicles it when it happens, and he mourns. He’s a tragic figure. Now they’re playing him like goddamn Alf.
Second, nothing grows where the Once-ler lives except Grickle-grass. The air smells “slow-and-sour.” Why? Because there are no Truffula trees. They were the anchor species of the ecosystem, upon which the other species depended. That’s the whole point. In this unholy movie, the kid lives in a candy-colored suburb with bright blue skies and well-fed white families everywhere. There are no trees, but the lack of trees is a curiosity, a matter for the idle dreams of suburban girls and their googly-eyed suitors. Apparently they were only there for aesthetics. Certainly no one seems worse off for their absence.
Third, the fact that the Once-ler’s face is never seen in the book is not an incidental detail. It is not a certain kind of person (or, uh, “person”) that allows short-term greed to obscure long-term concerns. It is all people. Any person. You, even, Mr. Hollywood Exec.
Finally, The Polyphonic f’ing Spree? (That’s their song playing.) “Follow the day and reach for the sun?” This is just sappy, generic uplift, all about chasing your dreams and actualizing your inner self, the usual crap that’s fed to suburban kids to keep their minds off outer-directed goals, social and political goals, goals like, oh, preventing corporations from cutting down all the trees. In this story, the Once-ler’s hideous crime and the destitution it leaves behind are a mere backdrop for one plucky kid’s effort to win over Betty Boop next door. Blech.
“But David,” you’re saying, “you’re being unreasonable. You’re asking for a story where the protagonist is ugly, powerless, ridiculous … and in the end, defeated. A somber moral fable with no love interest or humor. A tale that gives its audience of children credit for being able to grapple with loss and care about others not like them. That kind of thing is completely ill-suited to a Hollywood adaptation!”