Hold onto your Truffula tufts. Dr. Seuss’s beloved, at times controversial classic book The Lorax springs into 3-D on March 2, the day when the author would have turned 108 years old.
The CGI film, from Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment, features voice-work from a star-studded cast, including Danny DeVito, Zach Efron, Taylor Swift and Betty White. The movie represents the fourth feature-length film adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book, following How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), The Cat in the Hat (2003), and Horton Hears a Who (2008).
First published in 1971 by Random House, The Lorax is a parable that promotes the conservation of natural resources and warns against the perils of overconsumption. It’s told from the perspective of a remorseful figure called the Once-ler, whose face never appears in the book. The Once-ler shares a cautionary tale about chopping down feather-like Truffula trees, which he uses to make all-purpose wonder garments called "Kneeds." Driven by greed, The Once-ler ignores the eponymous, pint-sized sage who "speaks for the trees,' until it’s too late and the Lorax’s world becomes a wasteland.
From Page to Screen
The brevity of picture books naturally necessitates that film adaptations expand upon the source material, and The Lorax film does just that. While in the book, the Once-ler shares his story with a nameless boy (ostensibly, the reader), the film is more kid-focused, centering on 12-year-old Ted (Efron) who lives in an artificial community called 'Kneed-Ville.' In an effort to impress his love interest, Audrey (Swift) he goes on a quest to bring her a rarity of rarities in their manufactured world—a seed for a real tree. His journey takes him to the land of the Lorax, who is played by DeVito, and where Ted meets the aging Once-ler, played by Ed Helms. The film introduces additional original characters, including Ted’s grandmother, played by Betty White, and a new villain, O’Hare, played by Rob Riggle. The film also diverts from Seuss’s whimsical, yet melancholy classic with its eye-popping special effects, a wisecracking Lorax, and a far more sympathetic—perhaps even relatable—Once-ler, portrayed in his youth as a starry-eyed entrepreneur whose avarice leads him down the wrong path.
In a conversation with Entertainment Weekly last year, the film’s producer and CEO of Illumination Entertainment, Christopher Meledandri described the motivation behind making the Once-ler an "everyman" type character, rather than a nefarious villain: "The minute you make the Once-ler a monster, you allow the audience to interpret that the problem is caused by somebody who is different from me, and it ceases to be a story that is about all of us," Meledandri explained.
Meledandri also commented that Seuss’s illustrations of the Once-ler suggest that he is human, claiming that the proof is all in the gloves: "If there was a clear sign this character was something other than human, we would have abided by that…But okay, he’s wearing gloves. You’re not going to put gloves on a monster."
The "glove theory" aside, the Once-ler has long been a point of contention. A popular perspective on Seuss’s book is that the figure is meant to represent the faceless nature of an industry that takes no accountability for its actions. Though Seuss himself once stated in Life magazine that 'kids can see a moral coming a mile off," his work often uses metaphor and anthropomorphism to comment upon social and political issues. He even famously described himself as "subversive as hell"
In the 1980s, Seuss’s book was specifically criticized for presenting a prejudicial portrait of the logging industry. A rebuttal to the message of The Lorax came in the form of a 1994 book, Truax, written by Terri Birkett, illustrated by Orrin Lundgren, and published by the National Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association. Written in a style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s verse, the book creates a parody of the Lorax character in the form of a figure named Guardbark, who challenges a logger’s environmental practices. The logger assures Guardbark that the logging industry actively practices replanting and conservation.
Students Challenge Universal to Speak for the Trees
Championing Dr. Seuss’s message about protecting the natural world (“Unless someone like you/ cares a whole awful lot,/ nothing is going to get better/ It’s not”) is a class of fourth-graders in Brookline, Mass., who have suggested that Universal Pictures could take better advantage of The Lorax movie site to teach about the environment.
As their teacher, Ted Wells, describes in the HuffPost Green, the students circulated a petition through Change.org, urging Universal to add more green material. "Adding environmental education to The Lorax movie Web site is important because this is the message of the book and it should be honored. Dr. Seuss wanted people to be inspired by The Lorax to help the environment," the petition said. The students gathered more than 50,000 signatures and even appeared in a YouTube video discussing the reasons behind their campaign.
Recently, the movie’s Web site did "green up," launching a new link that connects to a page filled with information about The Lorax Project, a partnership between Conservation International, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, and Random House, which seeks to "engage individuals of all ages to do their part to conserve the places and species that are critical to the future of our planet.' The Lorax Project Web site includes green tips, screensavers, and information about endangered species. Also new to the Web site is a link to enter the Kids for Our Planet contest (a promotion sponsored by Whole Foods), which invites readers to nominate kids who are making a difference in their communities by working to protect the environment. The grand prize is a private screening of The Lorax the night before its public release.
On Change.org, teacher Wells responded to the film Web site’s new green materials: 'Universal Studios changed The Lorax webpage almost exactly as my class requested!... I couldn’t be more proud of my fourth-graders," he said. As Wells was told by a Universal Pictures executive, the new promotional tie-ins were already in the works, but the students’ petition "accelerated their plans."
New Lorax Editions Popping Up
Readers will have their choice of new Lorax book titles to accompany their movie-going experience. Random House released two Lorax readers last month: How to Help the Earth—by the Lorax, featuring tips for green living,;and Look for the Lorax, a romp through the Truffula trees. Other Lorax titles include two activity books, A Tree for Me! and The Lorax Doodle Book.
Also in January, Random released The Lorax Pop Up! from paper engineer David A. Carter, which integrates Seuss’s complete original text and illustrations. On February 2, Carter is scheduled to appear on the Martha Stewart Show to promote his pop-up book; in March, he embarks on a West Coast tour. A limited edition copy of The Lorax Pop Up! is also available; packaged in a fcloth slipcase with a ribbon pull, it features one additional pop-up, embedded in the cover.
Random will have in-store display placements tied to The Lorax movie release, as well as for Earth Day. Additionally, Random will be distributing Lorax-themed educational kits to more than 20,000 educators in conjunction with Read Across America. The kits will also be available at over 3,500 retail locations.
The Lorax has sold more than two million copies in the U.S. and Canada since its publication in 1972. Dominique Cimina, publicity manager for Random House Children’s Books, reports that the company shipped more Lorax titles for bookstore promotions this January than in the past four Januarys combined.