EnvironmentSuspension of Disbelief

Suspension of Disbelief: The Lorax

Suspension of Disbelief is a weekly feature, in which we review movies, books, TV shows, and other popular culture for the skeptical teen.

Despite my rage about the Lorax being used to sell Mazdas…after I calmed down a little I went and saw the movie… I couldn’t resist it. I’m a horrible activist. I originally thought I made a massive mistake by going to see it on the opening weekend at 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday. The theater was packed, mostly by kids… I usually hate seeing movies with kids but this was actually amazing to watch with kids. Sometimes I think I laughed harder than they did! But it wasn’t all laughs…

Based on: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Director: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
Starring: Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift and Danny DeVito

The Lorax tells a really important story about environmental degradation and heavily berates capitalism for its relentless pursuit for profit at the cost of nature and wildlife. The story is about the Once-Ler (get it – *Once* ler… mocking the one-use culture) who heads a massive deforestation project to make Theends (a sort of weird and useless product) that leads to all the forest animals leaving, really horrible air… etc. *SPOILERS*…but it’s pretty obvious how it ends, isn’t it? This version of the story incorporates the story of a young boy looking to learn about trees to impress a girl. The town they live in is made 100% from plastic and there are no trees at all except for electric ones. The boy goes to the Once-ler to learn about trees and is eventually given a seed to plant a tree in the middle of his very fake town. There is corporate resistance to him doing this (by a corporation that is basically running a very strict authoritarian regime in the city by telling everyone how wonderful it is – and selling air to them all because the air in the town is too poor to breath) but he ultimately prevails and the whole town wants more trees to grow.

Let’s start with what I think was good about the movie:

Listening to Ed Helms and picturing him talking…and the adorable animals:

The visuals were really amazing. I love a good 3D movie and this one utilized the technology really well. Animated films are always so much more interesting in 3D, and this one didn’t disappoint. It was also the first time I watched a 3D movie with my real glasses underneath – and voila! No post-3D headache. Silly me.

As most kids movies are it was very fast paced and very exciting. It’s interesting to watch kids movies as an adult. I often get annoyed by the constant need for something goofy to be going on – but this was one of those movies that kept the kids attention by using really bright colors, having a story that progress rapidly and stock characters that were really adorable and did subtly adorable things. It’s nice not to be bored… for even a second. But I don’t know if it’s good to do this to kids… It keeps their attention but how much do you want kids to have constant stimulation? I don’t know. Kids are complicated, I’ll stick to dogs.

The Once-ler’s big song… So the Once-ler starts making Theends and makes tons-o-money and this is all depicted through a song… and the song is a snarky, pointed and highly relevant piece that I absolutely loved. They are lines often used by anti-environmental/pro-capitalist and business oriented people to make themselves feel better or to dismiss environmentalists or even make it look like they’re actually doing the world a favour. It’s very obviously critical of corporate selfishness and libertarian, especially. Here are some of my favorite lines:

“How bad can I be? I’m just doing what comes naturally”

“There’s a principle of nature that almost every creature knows. It’s called survival of the fittest…the animal that doesn’t [scratch and fight] ends up someone else’s lunch”

“People with the money make this ever loving world go round”

“Everybody take care of yours and I’ll take care of mine.”

“How bad can I be? I’m just building the economy.”

And my personal favourite, accompanied by an image of a dime going into a charity hat:

“How bad can I be? A portion of proceeds goes to charity”

The parallels to the real world were absolutely wonderful. The economics were a bit shaky but… it’s a kids movie, so we’ll just let that slide by. But themes like greed corrupting families, people and societies, businesses feeling like they need to keep growing (and “biggering”) to make more money and the artificial happiness people feel in a plastic society… where the society tells you what to buy, do and ultimately how to think. The people in the boy’s town were PAYING FOR AIR!!! and no one thought it was a problem… (this is largely how I feel about water…). While a kid may not watch that and thing “hey! They have a fundamental right to air as human beings!” it plants that thought…and parents can foster it… which leads me to the cons.

Things that weren’t so great:

The connections to the real world aren’t exactly explicit. Parents will have to talk to their kids about the movie in order for the messages to really hit home. Because the first town is so exaggerated and the deforestation is also far removed from what we see going on in real life (like we still have trees in our cities) it would be difficult for a kid to understand that this sort of thing is *actually* happening right now. Parents will need to take the time to talk to their kids about it, and I’m not 100% sure parents will do this (maybe because some of them don’t even get it?).

The exaggerated message also makes it easy for anti-environmental critics to condemn the movie. Not only is it so blatantly critical of corporations for almost all reasons but it makes a straw man out of deforestation. This makes it easy for critics to dismiss it as false liberal rhetoric. The corporation maybe shouldn’t have been painted as *so* evil and at the end there should have been a bit more information about how corporations can work with the environment to continue their practices in a sustainable way.

The opening of the movie is also a little discouraging. People are *very happy* living in this plastic world. Their kid turns green from toxic water but they do it in this super happy and funny way… It made me really nervous about kids thinking that it’s really not so bad to live without nature.

The movie as a whole doesn’t jive with my philosophy of environmentalism and consumption… or wit the basic philosophy of the movie that is against this same sort of thing. The paraphernalia that it is creating, the money it’s pulling in and the lifestyle going to the movies promotes. It’s not something I think is a really great thing. I don’t know what those kids and their parents did before the movie or what they’re doing after but I feel like a better way to drive environmental messages home is to participate in community environmental action – not going to watch a movie. So while it did a good job of talking about some of the important issues I can’t say I think it’s something I’d bring my kids to (or dogs).

What makes me sad overall about the movie is that the book was written in the early 70’s…yet incredibly relevant, if not more so than in the 70’s. Sigh.

However… the movie, as a movie was really good, entertaining and a fun time, so I’ll give it 4.5 Pipsqueak bears out of 5.

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Katie is a graduate student from Canada studying the environment and systems theory. She also loves dinosaurs and baking cupcakes. Follow her on twitter @katiekish

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