I was sort of skeptical going into the Lorax, because I knew it was going to be a message movie about how we need to take care of the environment. Obviously that’s a good message to send, but it’s also a touchy message for a modern day kids movie to have, because the real money in kids movies is pumping out lunch boxes and stuffed animals – totally worthless plastic junk, basically – and I didn’t want the movie to sink to a level of hypocrisy. It’s a little bit easier to pretend that a movie is about art instead of producing product when it isn’t specifically designed to generate Happy Meal toys, you know?
Fortunately, the Lorax does a pretty decent job of balancing out it’s message. When the Once-Ler comes to a pristine valley with dreams of making it big as an entrepreneur the Lorax argues with him about not spoiling the valley, but eventually the Once-Ler proves his decency and they settle their differences. It’s only after the business has grown out of hand and everyone and their cousin is cutting down trees until there are no trees left that the Lorax gives up hope. The arc of the movie suggests that there’s got to be a happy middle between being able to manufacture things and also keeping the world around us in a semi-healthy state.
The key element in achieving that balance is that while the Once-Ler might be wrong, he isn’t a villain. He has good intentions, and he can see that he was wrong after it was too late, but he went down the wrong path because of bad advice from greedy people. The fact that they wrote his character to be tempered is important. It’s too easy to take advantage of the fact that kids have limited experience in the world and sell them a false bill of goods. Kids don’t have jobs, so they don’t have to worry about the economy, but they do love cute bears. This film has my gratitude for being more nuanced than a ninety minute clip of sad bears in empty forests.
Ultimately, this kids movie ends up in the same space as a lot of kids movies: great for kids, probably watchable for their parents who got dragged to it, but not must-see viewing for an adult who isn’t already interested in it. But given my low expectations for it, and the sad track record of modern day Seuss inspired movies, that’s still a victory for it.