A comparison of the old Lorax and new Lorax movies and the messages they convey.
The Lorax: A Comparison
The Lorax: A Comparison
The world ends at least ten times every summer, as we cycle through one apocalyptic narrative after another in movies. Movies such as The Day After Tomorrow are thought-provoking. Despite the fact that scientists negated the idea that climate change could happen that fast, the images are imprinted in the minds of the viewers in ways that reading a scientific article cannot achieve. Despite its bleak outlook, it provoked discussions on the topic of climate change - it did not leave people feeling apathetic and hopeless, instead it inspired people to change (Bulfin, 2017). This, I believe, is also the mission of both Lorax movies: dumbing down the material in order to make complex materials accessible and understandable to the mass public.
In Bulfin's paper on catastrophe narratives and climate change, she takes apart the zombie narrative, after analyzing how they can be seen as representing climate change and humanity's ever-increasing demand and willingness to consume. They usually contain some or all of the following elements: "the unheeded warning signs, the tipping point against mitigation efforts, the inevitable unfolding of the catastrophic event, streams of threatened refugees, society transformed out of all recognition, and the uncertainty of long-term human survival." Now, several of those elements are also found in the Lorax movies. Over and over again, the Lorax tries to warn the Once-ler about the consequences of his actions, only to be pushed aside due to the Once-ler's greed and desire to get more and more money. The tipping point is where the last tree is felled, when the catastrophic pollution caused becomes seemingly irreversible and the Once-ler finally realizes what he's done. The animals leaving represent the streams of threatened refugees and, especially in the 2012 version, we get to see how society has changed as a result. The last message communicated by the Lorax is "nothing will change, UNLESS someone cares a whole lot about the trees and nature" and the hope for the future is centered within the one seed given to the boy, Ted, to plant.
Personally speaking, I would pick either Lorax movie over a zombie apocalypse any day, but I find it fascinating just how similar both narratives fundamentally are. While in the 1972 version, it is a hypotheses that the Lorax and his friends might come back if Ted plants a forest, this is confirmed in the 2012 version. Thus, the newer version is less likely to result in apathy than the 1972 version, seeing as it's a less bleak perspective. Additionally, unlike the narrative in many other apocalyptic movies, the happy ending is not caused by a new innovation - it is caused by the people themselves learning to care about nature. Thus it avoids the perils mentioned by Bulfin of leading us to trust in officials to save us, inspiring us to act out instead.
Of the two Lorax movies, I would have to state that I like the newer version better. This is due to the fact that the characters are further developed and the end depicts an actual change in the people's behavioral patterns, thus leaving me with more hope for the future.
The Once-ler is, at the beginning of the story, someone who once upon a time created a product that everyone wanted - the thneed - and became a famous company owner until he felled the last tree and ran out of raw material. His name contains the world "once" in it, signifying from the get-go that he once was great, but no longer is. The 1972 version of him paints a picture of a CEO, who only cares about profit-maximization and refuses to listen to the Lorax at every single step along the way until it's too late and the Lorax leaves, the animals having already left due to the loss of their habitat. Up until then, he was stating that he was just driving progress and that if he didn't do it, someone else would. However, at that point he realizes what he has done when he's all alone with the money he made and his factory and regrets it. He gives the boy, whom he's telling his story to, the last seed for a tree and tells him to plant a forest in the hopes that the Lorax and his friends might come back.
In the 2012 version, on the other hand, the Once-ler actually has a face. His character is a little more rounded, as he becomes friends with the animals and Lorax before he strikes gold with his thneed (which is, I believe, a conglomeration of the and need, making thneed). He's desperately been seeking his family's approval all his life and hopes to finally get it through his thneed, proving to them that he's good for something. It's this need to prove himself and conform to his family's expectations that eventually leads him to follow their advice and give them permission to cut down the trees to harvest the material they need for the thneed, afterwards getting lost in his greed for more, just like zombies. When the last tree is cut down, his family abandons him again and the Lorax and animals leave to find a new home. Left all alone, he regrets what he's done and secludes himself from everyone else. Ted manages to get him to talk to him and finally, he gives Ted the last tree seed to plant and the mission to make people care. When he left his home, the sky around him was light and grew dark after he founded his company and factories, only to grow light again once Ted planted the seed. This is, I believe, both a representation of the smog and of his personality - when he's open and willing to care, it's light and when he's closed off it's dark.
The Lorax speaks for the trees, but cannot actually do anything else. He takes care of nature and the animals. In both versions he tries to appeal to the Once-ler and get him to see reason, but can't really get through to him until the last tree is felled, at which point he leaves. In the 1972 version, no one ever listened to him until it was too late. In the 2012 version, he becomes friends with the Once-ler and shows his truly caring side when he saves him from getting killed due to a trick he played on him, because he doesn't want to kill anyone - just stop them from hurting the wildlife. He keeps on reminding the Once-ler of who he once was and of his promise. In the end of the 2012 movie, he returns after the Once-ler starts planting trees.
In the original movie, Ted didn't actually play that big of a role. He went to the Once-ler to find out about the trees, thus creating a frame around the story that the Once-ler tells about how he destroyed the trees and polluted the area. He is given the seed with the mission of planting it and creating a forest, but it's unknown if he actually does.
In the 2012 version, he's one of the leading characters. Carrying the author's name, he's trying to gain his love interest's affection, who is named Audrey, after the author's second wife. Since she really wants to see a tree, he's willing to do anything to make sure that that happens, including going against the current monopolist, O'Hare, who's selling something everyone needs: air (oh, air). He's aided in his efforts by his grandmother, who remembers the Once-ler, trees and not needing to pay for fresh air. The means he uses to get people to care about nature is by knocking down the city walls, thus confronting them with the destruction visible outside, where you can see all the tree stumps. This seems to be the wake-up call that everyone needs and they agree with him that it's important to let the tree grow.
In the 1972 version, the only real antagonist would be the Once-ler. Due to the fact that he regrets his actions in the end, one could say that the 1972 movie is thus avoiding the clichof good vs. evil, though corporations are still cast in a negative light. By avoiding this, we are left to question and discuss what is right and what is wrong, thus making us think.
In the 2012 version, on the other hand, O'Hare is actively trying to prevent Ted from planting the seed, because then he won't be able to sell his air anymore. Corporations and their profit maximizing strategies are definitely shown to be evil in this version of the movie, as the people go from needing one item to the next, always consuming more and more, not caring about the pollution around them or the fact that they have to buy air, because it's all they know, until Ted helps them see the light. It's an entirely different question, though, if they will actually change their consumer habits and just adjust to having real plants there or not. That issue is not addressed within the movie. His family consists of his grandmother, his mother and him, which challenges the whole nuclear family ideal of a mother, father, 2.1 kids, a dog and a cat.
Audrey, Ted's mother and Ted's grandmother do not show up in the original book, nor in the 1972 movie. They help the plot along in the 2012 version, by giving Ted an incentive to find and plant a tree (Audrey), helping him find the Once-ler and return to him (his grandmother) and in protecting and planting the seed (all of them).
Both movies are aimed primarily towards children, keeping the language simple and easy to understand, minimal violence used and songs that kids can sing along with. At the same time, it's also geared towards the children's parents and their babysitters, who will be forced to watch the movie over and over again with them (as anyone who has/had kids will know). Being geared towards children, however, means that one cannot include hard scientific facts the same way. It is also possible that, due to the story taking place in a similar but alternate world, it could help one disassociate ourselves and our planet from the story. Additionally, the audience makes it difficult to portray the message that "the need" (thneed) is what is driving all of this destruction and thus we should try to consume less.
In contrast to the 1972 version, we actually get to know the current society in the 2012 version and they have a very different idea of what is normal than we do. They take it for granted that trees and plants are man-made and that the water and air is so polluted that it's hazardous, still living quite contently and willing to continue to consume more and more as long as it lets them keep their comfortable lifestyle. In their terministic screen, they blind out the outside by having walls to prevent themselves from seeing the wasteland and destruction outside. Our book defines terministic screens on p. 55 as "what is selected for notice, what is deflected from notice, and therefore how we perceive our world." While they are actively ignoring the problem, it is pointed out to us, the audience, in the first song, at which point we realize that something is wrong, which is the exigency.
Both movies are riddled with tropes - especially in the way the various animals and people are named. The Once-ler once was, the thneed is "the need," O'Hare is "oh, air," etc. The metaphor used to symbolize the tipping point is the last tree being cut down. Biggering stands for increasing profits.
As mentioned when analyzing the similarities to the zombie genre, both of the movies have certain aspects of the apocalyptic narrative, which "warn[s] or impending and severe ecological crises" (Cox & Pezzullo, 2016, p.61). However, it also has certain aspects of the Jeremiad, as it "denounces the behavior of a people or society and warns of future consequences if society does not change its ways." The apocalyptic aspect is shown foremost in the present, as we see how there are no trees and pollution is abundant. The Jeremiad genre is symbolized most effectively by the Lorax, as he continuously tries to warn the Once-ler, trying to tell him that what he's doing is wrong and that he should change something and do something before it's too late. However, given that it's obviously not too late yet in the 2012 version, something we don't know about the 1972 version, it ends up being closer to the Jeremiad genre, while the 1972 version is more apocalyptic, seeing as we have no proof that the seed can still grow.
Both of the movies have the same underlying theme, that nothing will change UNLESS someone cares. The newer one just has a little more hope mixed into it along with better developed characters, leaving one with a feeling of potential to do something rather than potential apathy. I think it's important that our children are some of the targeted audience by films and books like the Lorax, because today's children are tomorrow's adults and thus our future. Through its simple narrative and emotive pictures, the Lorax is, while somewhat over simplified, an easy way to introduce people to the concepts of pollution and invoke a potential emotional response and action. Thus, it should remain a staple at our schools and homes.
Bulfin, A. (2017). Popular culture and the "new human condition": Catastrophe narratives and cliamte change. Global and Planetary Change. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2017.03.002
Cox, R., & Pezzullo, P. C. (2016). Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. SAGE Publications, Inc.