Friday, March 2, 2012

Earth Day was the worst day, now we drink champagne when we thirst-ay

Posted By on 03.02.12 at 07:00 PM

Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, probably happy to be dead right now
  • Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, probably happy to be dead right now
I had trouble moderating my contempt for The Lorax in the review I wrote for this week’s paper (but thank goodness for editors; my first draft was even angrier), as the film triggered an adolescent spite for hypocrisy that I still haven’t outgrown. The movie is a slick piece of corporate engineering that suggests nothing less than a 90-minute commercial, its makers apparently having overlooked the blatant anticommercialism that informs the Dr. Seuss classic they adapted. Who would have thought that hundreds of nominal adults could misinterpret a book written for grade-school children?

To get a sense of the movie’s appalling doublethink, look no further than its IMDB trivia page:

Unlike the original book, the Once-ler [the villain of the story] is shown fully as a human. Executive producer Christopher Meledandri said of the change, “The minute you make the Once-ler a monster, you allow the audience to interpret the problem is caused by somebody who is different from me, and it ceases to be a story that is about all of us. Then it’s a story about, ‘Oh I see, the person who led us into the predicament is not a person. It’s somebody very, very different.’ And so it takes you off the hook.”

Correct me if I’ve misread Dr. Seuss too, but the Once-ler of his story was indeed a monster. He destroyed an entire ecosystem for personal profit, after receiving full warning of the harm he’d commit. Not only that, but the product on which he builds his empire—a useless Seussian whatsit called the Thneed—reflects the author’s unambiguous disdain for consumer culture. By turning the Once-ler into a naive dreamer who wants to “change the world” through entrepreneurism, the filmmakers perpetuate the “corporations are people too” bullshit that’s led to far more environmental devastation than the actions of individual consumers (consumers, by the way, being corporate jargon for “all people who don’t own corporations”).

I wouldn’t be so angry about this if the movie version of The Lorax had been any good. But the whole enterprise betrays a crass, hard-sell mentality that would be bad for children even if Dr. Seuss’s legacy hadn’t been involved. The sarcastic one-liners, spat at the viewer every few seconds, suggest the film had been written by a team of desperate failed sitcom writers. And I sensed nothing but mean-spiritedness in the decisions to make the main character’s mother a Jewish stereotype and the movie’s one unredeemable corporate villain a midget. The movie even lacks the saving grace of most animated features: there’s no sense of wonder to the imaginary settings. The movie’s Thneedville, where about half of the action takes place, resembles a slightly more colorful Old Orchard Mall.

I don’t want to imply that it’s impossible for a big movie studio to make an effective environmentalist allegory for kids. For instance, I didn’t buy the charges of hypocrisy leveled at Pixar’s WALL-E because its images of ecological devastation were truly horrifying and because its optimistic conclusion (which the Lorax movie plunders, incidentally) suggests that humanity’s rebound from near extinction would necessitate a different sort of civilization than the one we enjoy at present. And pretty much everything produced by Studio Ghibli, which has made the most profitable films in Japanese history, conveys such awe for the natural world that the movies can be termed environmentalist even when they don’t address environmental themes explicitly. Wait a minute—you say there’s a Studio Ghibli movie playing in theaters now? What the hell am I writing about The Lorax for?

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