Lessons from “The Lorax”


When I took my three-year-old daughter to watch the 3D animation movie “The Lorax”, I was expecting to see a fun kid’s movie with a light-hearted attempt at delivering an environmental awareness message to the youngsters; one that I was sure my daughter—between dancing enthusiastically through the musical numbers and munching eagerly on her popcorn—would probably fail to notice.

Based on Dr. Seuss's 1971 picture book, which unfortunately most of us here in Egypt have not had the chance to read, the story seems so ahead of its time; one might even call it visionary. The tale focuses on the plight of the environment and the risks that industrialization and corporate greed can have, which at the time the book was written were only starting to become apparent. However, 40 years later, the messages of conservationism are more relevant than ever.

The famed Dr. Seuss tale takes place in and around Thneedville, a sparkling clean town where everything is synthetic, trees are inflatable and made in factories, animals are long gone, water is poisonous and the air is so polluted that everyone breathes bottled air sold to them by a creepy little villain.

A young girl named Audrey longs for a real tree, and 12-year-old Ted is determined to find her one. With the help of his grandma who still remembers the trees, he seeks out the Once-ler; the old hermit tells the tale of how he broke a promise to “The Lorax”—the mystical creature who is guardian of all the trees—and cut down all the trufulla trees so he could sell the populace his briefly trendy “Thneeds”. Thneeds were a useless product, just a piece of fabric that everyone thought was cool for a while worn as a hat or worn in other ways, and then they went out of fashion and nobody cared for them anymore.

Bottled air, inflatable trees? Ridiculous as it may seem, I could not help feeling that this is not too far off from what we could soon face. In fact, the story contains many common components found in environmental issues we are facing today: deforestation, air and water pollution, lack of natural resources, animals critically endangered due to human activities, and the destruction of the ecosystem biodiversity; all those serious issues are represented in the story and are predicted to lead down this road.

However, the tale is not all gloomy; there is hope in the end and lessons to be learned to avoid such fate. As I became deeply engrossed in the tale, and even more so deeply touched and inspired by all the powerful messages portrayed within the plot, I found myself tracking the lessons we could all learn from the Lorax; the following are just a few:

“Unless Someone Like You Cares a Whole Awful Lot, Nothing is Going to Get Better. It’s Not

Dr. Suess said so 40 years ago and it still applies today. Unless we start caring and changing things, we too will end up trying to survive in a dirty wasteland and a barren landscape.

The idea that protecting and preserving our environment cannot happen without personal ownership by all is delivered by the character of the young boy “Ted”, the one who cared enough to try and change things, and managed to find hope in the end by planting the last Trufulla seed, and growing a real tree once again. Kids and adults can identify with Ted and learn that one person can make a difference; one just needs to care “A whole awful lot”.

“The More Smog in the Sky, the More People Will Buy”

“Mr. O’Hare”, the greedy businessman in the tale who managed to find a way to sell air was aware that the more the air was polluted, the more people will buy his bottled air. While the obvious lesson here is a message of criticism towards greedy capitalism, the deeper message is to tackle environmental problems from their roots, something “Ted” was able to understand.

Instead of purifying the air and selling it in plastic bottles, which in turn pollutes the environment even more from the manufacture of plastics and the creation of non-biodegradable waste, Ted realized that he needs to solve the root of the problem; in that case, the lack of trees.

While deforestation is definitely an issue for us today—it has been estimated that every minute, we lose 36 football fields-worth of forests—the underlying message could also be a parody of the bottled water industry; an industry surviving on the pollution of our natural resources and in turn pollutes the environment furthermore.

“A Tree Falls the Way it Leans. Be Careful Which Way You Lean”

The Lorax said so as a warning to the Once-ler, who was still a young well-intentioned boy at the time, when he found him leaning towards his own personal profit without thinking of the effect on the environment and the animals that need the trees he was chopping off.

By cutting down all the Trufulla trees, the Once-ler thought he was “only building the economy”; he was not aware of how much he endangered the planet and only realized his mistake very late. The sustainable development focus is to balance quality of life with quality of the environment, a concept the Once-ler did not understand, but one that the young boy was able to introduce with the last Truffula seed. Thus, young children and adults can identify with him and understand how essential it is to help preserve the environment before it is too late.

The Lorax knew that Thneeds made from the Truffula trees were useless and unwarranted, but the Once-ler, who was dazzled by the dollar, claimed that everybody needs Thneeds. The message here is also complex, we must not just lean towards sustainable development, we also have to adjust our aspirations to ensure a more secure future. We need to ask ourselves when and where we fall victim to irresponsible consumerism, realize what we really need and what is unnecessary, and work at becoming more Earth-savvy. In other words, We Do Not Need Thneeds!

The lesson that really stuck with me however, was the one presented by the mystical Lorax himself (voiced by none other than the legendary Danny Divito who delivered a star performance) with his distinctly deep voice as he declared:

“I am the Lorax, and I Speak For the Trees!”

I found myself channeling my inner Lorax and speaking for the trees and what they represent; in the story, the Lorax spoke for the trees and although the Once-ler did not listen at first, he eventually redeemed himself and began to speak for the trees as well. There is hope in being green, and public awareness is essential, so we need to keep hope alive and keep on spreading the message.

As we left the theater, I asked my daughter what she thought the movie was about, she said that the bad man cut down all the trees, which was wrong; we should not cut down the trees or the air and the water will stink!

So, I guess she did sort of get the message after all.


**The original article is published in the SCIplanet, Autumn 2012 Issue.

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