Authors of children’s media define brilliance. Not only have they realized how to reach the broadest range of audiences, but they have also understood how to relate meaningful content. Children’s movies and books have a twofold effect: impressionable children learn morals, which in turn places parents in a position to re-absorb and teach morals.
Most recently, I saw Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Aside from my infatuation with Zac Efron (Ted) and my respect for Taylor Swift (Audrey), I was not sure what to expect since this is not one of Dr. Seuss’ more well-known books. However, the movie captivated me from the start. The dystopian society that had allowed, even encouraged, technology to replace nature inspired me to draw out observations and some paradoxes the movie contains.
In Thneedville, nature is considered to be disgusting. Air is sold and bought by the bottle, and trees are continually updated products. Ted, a 12-year old boy, falls for Audrey, who dreams of seeing a living tree. Smitten, Ted searches for a tree in the superficial society; his mission brings him to the Once-ler. The Once-ler is the only person who knows the story behind the trees because he had cut down the last tree when he created Thneedville.
Of the many morals embedded within the storyline, the movie effectively presents the dichotomy between the natural and the superficial and what is at stake in choosing the superficial.
In choosing the superficial, the Once-ler, the founder of Thneedville, betrays the friends who had welcomed him into their homeland, destroys the beauty that initially drew him to the area and lives alone in regret for the greater part of his life because of this decision. He had chosen money over love, machines over nature and business-growth over friendships. Everything he thought would bring him happiness only brought him guilt and unrest.
Just as Dr. Seuss warns society against these enticing choices, the Lorax, the guardian of the forest, had warned the Once-ler against overlooking nature. When the Once-ler’s original business of selling Thneeds, an all-purpose material, takes off, the Lorax cautions him, “Trees fall the way they lean. Be careful which way you lean.” As humans, we fall into ruts from which we cannot easily free ourselves. When something in life, be it a relationship, a career, a grade, etc., causes us to metaphorically rise or fall, we rely on routines and habits we previously created. These foundational qualities expose themselves when we are either failing or succeeding, thus stripping away our superficial fronts to reveal our chosen individual natures.
Another lesson The Lorax teaches is that the strength of society lies in individuals. To emphasize the impact individuals can have on their community, the Once-ler likens Ted to a seed. He explains that “It’s not what something is, it’s what it can become” when handing Ted the seed to re-establish nature through a single tree. Both the Once-ler and Ted are individuals who possess the power to change society. The Once-ler had used his strength as destructive toward nature, while Ted uses his strength to renew nature. As individuals, we all choose how to either add to or detract from society; the choice lies not in whether we make this decision, it lies in whether we invest our talents in a better society or use them for our own selfish ends.
Not only does this concept address individualism, it also teaches qualities that run counter to the instant gratification that technology encourages, such as patience. This increases the gap between the superficial and the natural on the level of lifestyles. While nature grows and transforms at its own, usually slow, pace, technology creates lifestyles that require speed. Consequently, speed and intensity breed impatience and unrest.
As captivating and as educating as the storyline was, I could not help but think of how the movie itself contains a paradox. While it preaches in favor of pursuing the natural and against the creation of a world dependent on technology, its very format contradicts this notion. The 3D and the animated format with which this movie was created have replaced the more natural, hand-drawn cartoons of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. On the one hand, the production of Dr. Seuss’ story becomes an example of society that itself seemingly condemns, adding an ironic element to the movie. On the other hand, the fact that we choose to experience a make-believe, superficial world for a while in lieu of the natural world only proves his point, intensifying his concerns that humans have the tendency to choose the superficial over the natural.
With the advent of new technology that has prolonged working hours and has, at times, replaced books, board games and family time that build strong communities, Thneedville may be more representative of our reality than we would like to admit. In which case, Dr. Seuss’ fears become that much more applicable to modern-day society. However, just as the soil necessary to re-grow trees in The Lorax had remained underneath (and in spite of) the manufactured city, nature itself never disappears. It’s simply beneath the layer of superficial we have built upon it.
Follow Leslie Reece Schichtel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/leslieschichtel
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