Popcorn and a Book (1): Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

The Book: 1971

Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss (Random House)

The Film: 2012

Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda (Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures)

This was my first time watching a full-length animated Dr. Seuss movie and I must say I was very impressed. Dr. Seuss’ books have a whimsy that is entirely their own but the creative team behind the film did an excellent job of bringing the story to life.

Like most picture books that are made into movies, an additional story line is needed to fill the 90 plus minutes required for a full-length feature. The Lorax took the character of the nameless little boy in the book’s illustrations, “you” the reader, and created a boy named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron). They also created a modern Thneedville, in which everything is plastic including the trees, and fresh air has to be paid for. Everything that happens inside of Thneedville is unique to the film.

In comparison, the story of the Once-ler is very true to the book. Alright, the Brown Bar-ba-loots get extra screen time playing up the cuteness factor, but you can’t help loving them (and the humming-fish immediately won my heart when they hummed the death march). And of course there are the songs, which aren’t in the book for obvious reasons, but I for one loved the songs and found myself bobbing right along with them. Even with the songs, the Once-ler’s story doesn’t stray from the book and I appreciate that fidelity. And let me just say, Danny De Vito was the perfect choice for the voice of the Lorax! I can’t think of anyone who would be better.

Now I would like to turn your attention to the additions to Dr. Seuss’ story: the town of Thneedville.

Thneedville is wonderfully imagined and very creative, very Seussian. It makes for a fun movie with a hero, villains, action and quirky secondary characters. My concern with this part of the story is it somewhat lessens the impact of the ruined environment. In the book the bright colours and the lushness of the Truffula tree forest are starkly contrasted by the gloominess of the barren land where the Once-ler lives. It is very clear to the reader what is good and what’s bad.

In the movie, however, Thneedville is also very bright and exciting (and Ted gets to drive a super cool, one-wheeled motorbike!). Very little gloominess actually gets screen time. There are some indications that a few townsfolk aren’t happy, but for the most part the people of Thneedville don’t mind because they don’t know any better. I asked my movie companion what he thought of the movie and, while he enjoyed it, he said, “The townspeople don’t really learn anything… They’re more curious about the trees than they are concerned. Why would they be when they have such a neat place to live?” I agree with this observation.

That being said, Ted does learn the importance of the trees and learns to care about them. That’s key. Ted is a stand-in for “you,” the reader, so if he cares, that should mean you do to, right? I know it worked that way for me—I left the theatre and said, “Wow, that really makes you feel guilty, doesn’t it?”  I hope it does that for you too.

In this battle between book and film, I can’t choose a clear winner. Both the book and the film versions of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax complement each other. They are entertaining and promote a good message about taking care of our world.

Are you able to choose between them?

“Popcorn and a Book” is a bi-weekly meme I host where I will compare one book with its adapted film, looking at the content, the way it has been visualized, the experience, etc. If you would like to participate in this meme, please visit the “Popcorn and a Book” main page for details.

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