Critics unsure whether The Lorax speaks for the trees, or the SUVs

The Takeaway

Though “The Lorax” has just opened to the public, it’s a movie that has already ruffled a lot of feathers.

Some claim it’s leftist eco-propaganda and others claim that, with its 70-plus product tie-ins, it’s capitalistic garbage.

The computer-animated film has almost 70 different advertising partnerships, and contains references to Mazda SUVs, IHOP, Target, Whole Foods and HP computers. Despite facing criticism from the left and right, “The Lorax” took in more than $70 million during box office opening weekend.

Rafer Guzman, film critic for Newsday, said he was surprised by the negative reactions to the film.

“The film does have the spirit of the original. The Lorax is a plea for responsible conservation. It’s not anti-corporate or anti-business. Dr. Seuss was never a guy to write a political tirade or a polemic,” he said.

However, several others disagree, saying the film’s environmental message is being overshadowed by its blatant promotion of commercial products.

“Each of these corporate partnerships thumbs its nose at Dr. Seuss,” said Huffington Post blogger Susan Linn.

She said the film’s sponsorship ties teach children to “equate love with consumption.”

NPR also questiond the film’s intentions, and even Stephen Colbert expressed frustration with the film’s many commercial tie-ins.

Charles Cohen, a Dr. Seuss enthusiast and scholar, who helped publish several of Dr. Seuss’s lost stories last year in a collection, “The Bippolo Seed and other Lost Stories,” agreed in part, that Dr. Seuss was not one for a political tirade.

Cohen said that at the time Seuss wrote The Lorax, it was an attempt to bring ecological and environmental problems to the attention of young children.

“He knew that he was taking a moral stand and he said, in his words, that it was the only book that he’d written up to that point which he’d consciously tried to preach and to propagandize,” Cohen said.

Cohen insisted the point of the Lorax was not to condemn industry or lumbering as immoral. Instead, it is meant to serve as a lesson about conservation.

“Seuss said that it’s about conserving our resources. He said it was anti-pollution and anti-greed, but not anti-industry. He remained a conservation campaigner for the rest of his life, and right up to the year before his death he did a pamphlet on trying to save San Diego neighborhood parks and open spaces,” Cohen said.

Though everyone from Lou Dobbs, who criticized The Lorax before it was released, calling it “insidious nonsense from Hollywood,” to Colbert, has expressed concerns about the film’s message, Cohen said the initial reaction was much less vehement.

“Sales were relatively slow compared to his other books, but it was because readers and new reviewers were surprised by the more serious subject matter,” he said. “The real politicalization of the Lorax seemed to have started around 1989. There was a campaign to ban the book from a second grade reading list in a town north of San Francisco, but that measure was defeated.”

Criticism of this type is nothing new for Hollywood children’s films.

Fox News called the Muppets “communists” and also claimed the Muppets movie had an anti-capitalist agenda.

Dobbs also claimed that the film The Secret World of Arrietty was a liberal attempt to indoctrinate children, and the children’s film Wall-E faced similar criticism.

Guzman said the problem is Hollywood has a reputation for liberal bias and a reputation for exploitation, violence, consumerism and sexism.

“I feel like there’s always people on either side of that fence ready to pounce on the latest Hollywood movie, because these things have influence,” he said.

“There’s an interesting argument that can be made that a Seuss film is responsible for the type of movie merchandising that we see now. The only feature film for which he wrote the script, ‘The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T,’ had the single largest merchandising campaign in movie history when it came out in 1953, selling jewelry, clothing, musical instruments, and other things,” Cohen said.

Guzman said Hollywood is, in some ways, trapped by its history and will always be viewed skeptically.

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