Day by day, the environmental crisis is worsening. Along with that brings an urgent need to encourage conversations and promote informative sources of data on climate change. Through focusing on The Lorax (2012), Impact‘s Manjot Sahota explores how films can be a crucial resource in saving the environment.
With rising public interest in concerns surrounding climate change and our environment , we need to keep up the momentum by placing further emphasis on broadening the awareness around environmental issues, and putting a halt to this destructive trajectory we’re currently headed on. It’s no longer permissible to turn a blind eye to the reality of the situation.
Our environment is undeniably a big part of our cultural narratives
While scientific research and the formulation of policy play a crucial role in addressing this challenge, popular culture and media are serving as influential platforms for raising awareness about environmental issues. Our environment is undeniably a big part of our cultural narratives. These forms of entertainment that reach a wide range of audiences and cross geographical boundaries, make powerful means for encouraging change and action in this struggle.
When it comes to mainstream animated films, there are very few characters that stand so staunchly in defence of the environment as Dr. Seuss’s iconic Lorax. “I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please!” (The Lorax, 2012, dir. Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda, Universal Pictures.) This perfectly captures the spirit of a timeless tale that continues to resonate through generations, reiterating an urgent appeal for the conservation of our natural world. Dr. Seuss’s 1971 allegory has been adapted for both film and TV, the musical TV special hit small screens on Valentines Day in 1972, and served as an engaging medium for displaying the nuanced nature of environmental concerns.
The classic story re-appeared around 4 decades later in 2012, this time on the big screen. This article explores how the film delivers the critical message regarding environmental protection, as well as how its continued relevance leaves a lasting impression on audiences of all ages, particularly the younger generation.
Set in the town of Thneedville, where artificiality prevails, everything is manufactured from the trees to the air that the town people breathe, and there is a literal wall separating them from the consequences of their consumption on the outside world. Residents live blissfully unaware that O’Hare, the resident “zillionaire” (The Lorax, 2012), has capitalised on the scarcity of natural resources by commodifying air and selling the citizens bottled oxygen, something that could easily be free. That is until Ted comes into the picture.
the defender of nature presents facts to the Once-ler, but his words fall on deaf ears.
The majority of the plot revolves around two central characters: Ted, a young boy intrigued by the story of the Once-ler and his experience with the Lorax, and the Once-ler himself, a regretful recluse who recalls his past actions that led to the near-extinction of the Truffula trees and the departure of the Lorax, guardian of the forest. After embarking on a quest to discover a real tree to impress his crush Audrey, who wants to see a real tree, instead Ted uncovers the truth and sets out to restore nature to Thneedville. Echoing the words of the Lorax by saying “I am Ted Wiggins, and I speak for the trees” (The Lorax, 2012), determined protagonist Ted opposes O’Hare’s agenda and exposes the reality of the situation to the people of Thneedville. This leads to the last Truffula seed being planted and life sprouting once more.
Eye-catching animation, musical numbers, and memorable characters are used by the directors of The Lorax to convey the consequences of blatant disregard for our environment. The Lorax, who “speaks for the trees”, stresses that nature should be preserved rather than exploited for short-term gain, the defender of nature presents facts to the Once-ler, but his words fall on deaf ears.
A metaphor for our current predicament, a world in which short-term gains can lead to long-term ecological damage
This draws an interesting parallel between The Lorax and the scientists of our world. In the 2012 film, the Once-ler’s character is complexified, not a monster, just an imperfect individual. Driven by the pursuit of profit and growth, he degrades the environment, leading to air and water pollution, habitat loss, and the departure of the Lorax. A metaphor for our current predicament, a world in which short-term gains can lead to long-term ecological damage.
The portrayal of the Once-ler serves as a cautionary tale of the negligence of corporations and draws attention to the need for businesses to consider the long-term environmental impacts of their operations and the importance of sustainable practice. The main character Ted represents the involvement of individuals in tackling seemingly insurmountable environmental challenges. As the Once-ler put it, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better- it’s not” (The Lorax, 2012).
Given that the Once-ler fears that anything he does will bring about ruin and destruction, he entrusts this responsibility to Ted. The songs in the film are also effective tools used to connect with audiences through lyrics and catchy melodies. Reinforcing messages about environmental protection and providing digestible insights into the characters, these numbers can help audiences, especially the younger generation, better understand the complex real-world topics being explored in a fun and engaging way. Some of the songs have even achieved popularity beyond the scope of the film, for example, Let It Grow is considered an environmental anthem.
the focus of the film was to draw attention to what overconsumption and over-exploitation of natural resources is doing to our planet
Just as Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax as a cautionary tale about our environmental responsibility as humans, the focus of the film was to draw attention to what overconsumption and over-exploitation of natural resources is doing to our planet. ‘The Need for a Thneed’ perfectly depicts how some needs are marketed to us and how we are encouraged to consume regardless of the cost, whether it be monetary or environmental.
The Lorax (2012) also represents hope by displaying the importance of reforestation and the restoration of habitats, an area that has gained grown in recent years, with projects focusing on conserving our precious ecosystems through environmental stewardship.
Educators even use this film as a teaching tool to educate students about environmental issues. Children learn a lot from what they watch, especially in this generation where our primary source for information involves social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. The teachings of the Lorax have found a place on various social media platforms with audiences sharing their own insights on the film’s message and the way it been executed. Filmmakers and content creators use animation to engage viewers with vibrant visuals, while also providing life lessons and moral education.
the movie allowed the studio to capitalise off marketing green products even when they may not align with genuine environmental conservation efforts
Reception to the 2012 film wasn’t all positive though, some criticised the portrayal of complex environmental issues as too simplistic, whereas others argued that the marketing of the film and related merchandise may contribute to the very commercialization and consumerism that the message of The Lorax warns against. Produced by Universal Studios, the movie allowed the studio to capitalise off marketing green products even when they may not align with genuine environmental conservation efforts- this also known as greenwashing.
On the other hand, the movie has also been embroiled in political controversy as some in conservative political circles have expressed fears about the Lorax promoting environmental activism and presenting an unfavourable image of business and capitalism. This was the case when Dr Seuss released his book in 1971 too as some industries weren’t too happy about its environmentalist message turning children against them. Despite criticism, creators continue to address climate change and environmental issues through forms of media and entertainment. Whether it be a documentary (such as David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet) , sci-fi (such as The Avatar) or animation like The Lorax (such as Over the Hedge).
a useful stepping stone to engaging with environmental conservation
The significance of The Lorax lies in the capacity it has in communicating environmental themes to audiences in a fun and accessible manner and it remains relevant, particularly considering the world’s urgent need for environmental action. It serves as a useful stepping stone to engaging with environmental conservation.
Climate change, habitat destruction, pollution, and loss of biodiversity threaten our world’s delicate balance. To safeguard the environment, we must act decisively. By taking steps today, we can ensure a healthier, more sustainable future for our communities and planets.
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