The Once-ler says, "Something good finally happens to me and he has to rain on my parade."
Oh sure, we can say the statement gets at the greed of the Once-ler. He's a selfish man. It's this feature which allows him to chop down all the Truffula trees in pursuit of of more and more money.
But it also shows an obliviousness. A lack of understanding about what's actually at stake. About his, the Once-ler's, impact on those around him.
This failure to empathize, to look beyond one's own wants and needs, is central to the moral of the story. DON'T BE THIS PERSON.
But the guilty party is not just the Once-ler. Or little ol' Aloysius O'Hare.
Nearly every action by every character in this movie is selfish or duplicitous, or both, and comes at the expense of someone else.
So while the surface level message is sweet and nice, the means of execution are, I think, quite disgusting.
Directors: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
Industrious 12-year old, Ted: Zac Effron
Action-inducing Audrey: Taylor Swift
Said "fuck" during his first SNL sketch, Ted's mom: Jenny Slate
Sweet, but sneaky grandmother: Betty White
Greedy ass Once-ler: Ed Helms
Shades of orange: Danny DeVito
Best hair-cut of 2012: Rob Riggle
She's hilarious: Nasim Pedrad
One of the first things Ted does is fly a remote-controlled plane. Yay, he's a 12-year-old kid, doing kid things! Except he crashes it in the backyard of a house. A premeditated action. It turns out, inside the house, is Audrey. Ted's crush. She says something to Ted like, "Did you lose another ball in our yard?"
It's sort of funny. But it's the action of someone who doesn't have the confidence to say: "Hey, want to hang out?"
"He's twelve, you need to calm down!"
I don't care. What we see from Ted is someone constantly manipulating people. He is rarely honest. And is impatient ("HE'S TWELVE!" I don't care. Stop interrupting me.)
Fine, fine. We can argue that he is a young version of The Once-ler. That, if left unchecked, he could mature into someone as self-motivated and profit-hungry as The Once-ler or O'Hare.
This is why when the Once-ler's trying to tell his story to Ted Ted doesn't really want to listen and be polite. He doesn't recognize this is important to the Once-ler. If he does he ignores this insight. Asking the Once-ler to get to the part about being able to find trees. He tries to leave, an action that says, "You're not giving me what I want, when I want it, so I'm going to go."
This is also why, when O'Hare has sealed the way out of the city Ted had been using, Ted drives his bike through someone else's house. He doesn't destroy anything. But it demonstrates the attitude of: what I want to do is important, so calm the fuck down, you don't understand how important this is, I can do what I need to do.
Ted's sweet, sweet grandma sends her grandson outside the city to the Once-ler. She has a good reason: the Once-ler's story will be good for Ted. But she lies to get Ted to go. Bring the Once-ler nickels, something, and a snail, she tells Ted. These things don't matter. And the Once-ler isn't really going to tell him where to find a tree. I'm splitting hairs, but, I think the hairs are important. If she had told Ted the truth (there are no more trees, but the Once-ler may know, he's your only chance), would Ted still have gone? Maybe? Maybe not? We will never know. The decision isn't Ted's to make. Grandma makes the decision for him when she tells him what he wants to hear instead of the truth.
Grandma, before lying to Ted, lies to Ted's mother. She says she forgot her teeth, could Ted's mom go get them for her. Turns out Grandma has the teeth! Isn't that hilarious! I don't think so. Don't they care enough about each other to be honest with each other?
"But the mom may have objected to her son leaving the city!"
Do we know that to be true? She helps him later. Without any argument. The Grandmother lying to the mother means the mother doesn't know what's going on. Which means we don't get to see how she feels about the topic. Which means she loses character. When she supports Ted at the end of the movie, we're left to wonder: was she this supportive all along? A moment that could have been a "change of character" or "character growth" is, instead, the first plot-oriented action we've seen her take.
We can say her wanting to have Family Game Time is plot-oriented action, because she keeps Ted from going to see the Once-ler. Except she doesn't know what's going on. It's not like he's told her and she goes "Enough. I told you I don't want you leaving the city." Since he hasn't told her what's going on, she's left to assume his actions. And because Ted's only 12, she assumes whatever he wants to do isn't THAT important.
Ted needs to go to the Once-ler. His mom wants him to stay home and play board games with the family. HOW WILL WE SOLVE THIS PROBLEM? Grandma pulls another trick. Instead of talking with her daughter, instead of convincing her daughter into allowing Ted to go do his thing, Grandma takes forever to make moves and ruins the game. The mom, upset at the pace of the game, quits and says Family Game Time is over, it's personal time now, and leaves. Grandma tells Ted to go to the Once-ler. We're supposed to think, SHE KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING, YES, WAY TO GO GRANDMA! But...think about it. The mom is made to be the bad guy for no reason other than wanting to spend time with her family. She isn't given a choice about whether or not she would let Ted go to the Once-ler. She's forced into the role of "impediment" because neither Ted nor Grandma tells her what is going on. We're supposed to feel good about the grandma tricking her. All she wanted to do was spend time with her family...and she's vilified for it....
Without any transition, let's move on to when the mom DOES help Ted. She distracts one of O'Hare's goons by driving the car (with a fake Ted in the backseat) in one direction, while Ted, Grandma, and Audrey go another direction. The goon knocks other cars off the road. Without concern. Other people suffer. It's the same idea of: "What's going on is so important, I can do whatever the fuck I need to do." Granted, these are the bad guys doing this. But the mom has a similar moment. The mom drives on a closed road. Goes up a ramp. And knocks a whole bunch of shit off the ramp. Signs, blockades. These things fall from a great height to the buildings below. What damage will they cause? Will they kill anyone? Will they ruin someone's business? Someone's home? Will they cripple someone?
"IT DOESN'T MATTER! IT'S A MOVIE!"
Invalid. If you say this action of the movie doesn't matter, then every other action of the movie doesn't matter. The point of the movie--that greed can ruin the world--also doesn't matter. The movie is a whole. It is the sum of its parts. We must hold it accountable for all of its actions.
Where we don't see dishonesty is in the tale of the Once-ler. The Once-ler is honest. He wants to chop down trees. He wants success. He wants to make money. The Lorax wants him to stop. The Brown Bar-ba-loots, the Swomee-swans, the Humming-fish, they're all friendly and innocent. Instead of dishonesty, we see a clear violation of boundaries. The animals encroach upon the Once-ler the same way he is encroaching upon them. And it's done in a funny way. The Once-ler wakes up to find the Lorax in his bed. The Bar-ba-loots and swans in his dresser, on his shelves, on his table, his counters. The fish are in his cups and bowls. Maybe they're passively-aggressively trying to get him to leave, maybe they're just idiots...The fat bear is in the fridge eating butter. Is this innocent friendship or is this passive-aggression? The movie doesn't tell us. If it's friendship, it's an extremely ugly version of friendship. "We're friends, I can do whatever the fuck I want in your house." If it's passive-aggression, it comes immediately following the Once-ler's pledge to not cut down any more trees, and the seeming start of the friendship. Which means that the friendship we think they have isn't...real...or is a facade... Which is fine, but...Either way the animals are less cute than the should be. Yes, it's funny that they think his house is their house, that they make themselves at home because they're so innocently stupid and don't understand boundaries, but it's systemic of the whole movie.
No one in this movie respects anyone else. This makes sense when taken as part of the "greater message" of respect the environment, respect consumers, be a respectable businessman. But the humor is based in disrespect. The positive actions are still disrespectful. The "climactic" action of planting the tree involves ruining the life of Aloysius O'Hare. Which, again, is fine. The dude sucks. He disrespected an entire city of people, he gets his just deserts. I point this out to point out, once more, that disrespect is inherent to the structure of this movie. The characters don't respect each other enough to honestly talk with one another, they don't respect boundaries, they don't respect the environment. Even the Lorax oversteps his bounds. There's no "ideal" character. There's no one we can point to where we can say "She/He does things the right way!"
For this reason, I found The Lorax hard to watch, unfunny, and, in the final analysis, irredeemable. It's like watching Transformers if the only characters were Decepticons. What is it without Optimus Prime?
You could try to argue that everyone sucks because Thneedville is a "warning". Their behaviors are the result of consumerism or being the pawns of corrupt businessmen or [insert reason]. The same "Unless" that applies to the environment is applicable to human behavior.
BUT. This doesn't explain the animals. It doesn't explain the lack of including an "ideal" character. I think it's more indicative of the team behind The Lorax. The writers, the producers, the directors, they are the people who made Despicable Me. I think Despicable Me suffered from the same issues as this movie. Look at how the minions are treated. They are abused, misused, and the victims of all sorts of pain, punishment, and sacrifice. People find this funny and think the minions are cute. I find it...like kicking a cat or uppercutting a puppy. The minions are loyal and simple. They want to please Gru. And he could care less. Which is appropriate for the character. He's selfish and heartless. But disrespect drives the humor of Despicable the same way it does Lorax. Call me crazy, but I don't find this funny. Or enjoyable. It isn't something I want to watch in any movie.
The end result is: as long as you do the right thing in the end, everything you do before is okay. This idea of redemption is nice. But it's redemption without consequence. Ted, Grandma, Ted's mom, Gru. They put people at risk. They do crazy things. They wreck stuff. And there's no consequence to any of their potentially dangerous actions. They aren't held accountable. The message of "care about the environment and care about being good" is nice, but the underlying message of "DO WHAT YOU WANNA DO, DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO, NOTHING BAD WILL HAPPEN" isn't so nice.
Did I Like It:
Meh. Same reaction to this as to Despicable Me. Some enjoyable moments. But, morally, I take issues.
In case you're wondering, I love Grand Theft Auto. I have no problems with Mortal Kombat or video game violence. Those games don't pretend to have a larger message. They're void of meaning. They're cathartic. Plus, they're ridiculous. Video games serve a different purpose than film or literature. Look at the title: Video. Game. Game. Game. Game. Films, like literature, inform the way we live.
(And look, I love my RPG's, but, still, Final Fantasy VII isn't Fight Club.)
One part of the movie amazed me. The song where the Once-ler becomes a business tycoon and chops down all the trees. The scale. Making him so big and so...awful. I found it a true nadir. The perfect example of what the Once-ler truly was. It reminded me of the sludge song in Fern Gully.
I'd like to clarify too. Everyone thinks this is a Anti-Capitalism story. It's not. It's an anti-being-a-son-of-a-bitch story. It has nothing against capitalism. The major message talks about irresponsible capitalism. Capitalizing on people. Be careful of what you sacrifice in pursuit of money. There should be limits. If there aren't, this is what you get.
What It's Good For:
-how not to act (not acting-act, but like...living act...act in life)
-hearing voices of famous people without seeing their real faces
-lack of positive role models
They're not really acting.
I'm in the midst of refiguring this section...