Has Universal Pictures’ The Lorax forgotten the lessons learned? #Loraxwashing

My last blog post was about Universal Pictures’ The Lorax and how hope will change the world. I was actually optimistic that the new movie would inspire more people to change their worlds. I was optimistic that the movie The Lorax would reach more people with an uplifting environmental message.

But, a recent article by Mother Jones has crushed that optimism. According to the article, The Lorax has over 70 launch parties, including many not so environmentally friendly products, such as standard fuel injection engine Mazda SUV, Pottery Barn Kids, dispoable diapers and more.

Wasn’t one of the more compelling messages in Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax that conpicuous consumption will result in environmental gloom and doom UNLESS we care? Shouldn’t the good folks behind the movie care a bit more about the launch partners, consistent with the environmental message of the story? Shouldn’t the products be at least environmentally friendly, even if they are products that we don’t really need? An electric car? Disposable diapers made with reclaimed materials or some environmentally friendly concept?

Or are those good folks just like the Once-ler – caught up in making money?

Pimping products is just, well, #loraxwashing.

Lessons from The Lorax: Hope Will Change The World

I was so excited when I first learned that Universal Pictures was releasing Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. My kids and I saw the trailer in a movie theater, and they were excited too. Why? Because they were familiar with the tale, since I have repeatedly read it to them. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is oft read environmental children’s book in our house.

And then, I was approached to be part of a compensated blog tour in support of Universal Pictures’ Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, and I was even more thrilled. Rarely do I get to participate in such activities for a variety of reasons. As an added bonus, the other blog tour participants are bloggers and people I admire and respect (see below). As a result, I am thrilled to blog about Lessons from The Lorax: Hope Will Change The World.

Now, the book The Lorax is a more than a bit gloomy. The Once-ler creates demands for his Thneed with slick marketing, and ultimately chops down the entire Truffula Forest to knit Thneeds. In the process, the Bar-ba-Loots get the Crummies because of gas and “no food in their tummies” so The Lorax, speaking for the trees, sends them away. The Swomee Swans get sore throats from the “smogulous smoke” and their singing falls silent. Again, the Lorax sends them away. The Humming Fish can’t hum because of Thneed manufacturing by-products being dumped in their ponds so the Lorax sends them off too. Eventually, no Truffula trees are left, and the Once-ler’s factory shuts down. The Lorax leaves with an ominous “UNLESS” inscribed on a pile of rocks and our bit of hope is tied to a single seed the Once-ler passes to the boy (representing the reader).

Quite a lesson. A narrative of gloom and doom. A tragic scenario of creeping doom UNLESS we mend our ways.

When my mom read The Lorax to me when I was little. I remember being so depressed – overwhelmingly depressed by the plight of the Truffula, the Bar-ba-Loots, the Swomee Swans and the Humming Fish. But my mom always gently reminded me that it was a cautionary tale, and encouraged me to do something about it if I was moved. I encourage my kids to do the same.

Much environmental journalism uses the Lorax narrative to seek to compel change. And I’m honestly not sure it works to compel change as a doomsday scenario. Most of us can’t see the potentially world ending results from our individual actions. So, it doesn’t compel us to change our ways according to most studies. Or we think our individual changes won’t amount to anything or won’t stop the doomsday from coming. So we don’t do anything at all.

We don’t heed the warning “UNLESS.” And often we don’t see the hope present in the remaining Truffula seed.

But with hope we will change the world. And that is the lesson from The Lorax I want to pass to my children. Whether you see hope in science and technological advances, or hope in sustainable design, or hope in a mere seed, that hope will change the world.

The movie The Lorax encourages hope too, and causes us to question our indulgence in all things technologically advance and artificial. The movie changes the narrative a bit (although it ultimately remains a tragedy). The town is called Thneedville, where everything is artificial and no trace of nature remains. Director Chris Renaud explains:

We came up with the idea to have Thneedville be a bit more relatable. It’s like Vegas or Disneyland or Abu Dhabi. We see ourselves in it a bit, and it is kind of fun. There are inflatable bushes and mechanical flowers and trees, and it’s a place with no real nature. Everyone seems to be happy, and they have everything they want: from giant cars to robots and other mechanical devices. But then it becomes a question about sustainability. While all this stuff is fun and great, is it in balance with the broader planet, and how do we maintain that balance?

Ted seeks to win the affection of the girl of his dreams, Audrey, by finding her a real tree. And he learns about the history of Thneedville, its artificiality, and then seeks to set things right with the last Truffula seed, we get a bit more hope than we do in the book.

I’m not sure if the message will ultimately be more persuasive to effectuate significant change in our quests to consume. But I am certain that it will at least inspire conversations about nature, environmentalism, extinction and more. Most importantly, about hope. And that is a lot. More than most big screen movies today. Conversations I am more than happy to have with my kids. And conversations that can be readily adapted to encourage kids to be more involved with nature, to consume less and differently, to question marketing messages, to understand the interlocking web of our planet, to take joy in simply planting a tree.

What are the Lessons from The Lorax? This blog tour is highlighting quite a few. For example,  yesterday Jennifer Lance at Eco Child’s Play reminds us to identify and skip the Thneeds in our lives.  Tomorrow, Beth at My Plastic Free Life will tackle yet another.

I personally had a hard time settling on just one lesson. The Lorax has a lot to teach us. At first, I thought I would talk about that the lesson from The Lorax isn’t about not having what you want, it is wanting what you got (thanks to Sheryl Crow’s Soak Up The Sun for that appropriate lyric).

I settled on hope will change the world because it is the reason to keep going and being green. There is no reason to give up on being green – one seed could change the world. So, take heed of the Lorax’s warning of UNLESS. Keep hope alive and stay being green.