March 2, 2012 marked the 108th birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss — Seuss being both his middle name and his mother’s maiden name, and Dr. being a tongue-in-cheek reference to the doctorate in literature he never finished when he dropped out of Oxford University).
I learned to read from, quite possibly, everything Dr. Seuss ever wrote for children, so whenever his birthday comes around I find myself feeling both happy and sad — happy that people still remember and mark the birthday of a great children’s author who continues to affect and inspire the lives of many youth, and sad that he is no longer with us to grace the world with his creativity, rhyme, insight, and ethics.
Dr. Seuss has been in entertainment news recently due to the release of a film adaptation of The Lorax (1971); however, despite my love of anything Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a movie I refuse to watch because it fails to hold up to Geisel’s intention to teach children about ecological awareness.
Geisel hated it when people would describe his books as “whimsical,” because that implied his books did not say anything of value. On the contrary, many Dr. Seuss books discuss important and controversial subjects including — but not limited to — fairness, discrimination, peace, the environment, consumerism, and humanity in general. And yet, as entertainment journalist David Edelstein mentions in his review, “The Badness of The Lorax Is a Shock” (never mind how bad Edelstein’s title is), the film adaptation of The Lorax “isn’t Seussian in spirit.” Not only does Edelstein describe the movie as being “shrill and campy and stuffed with superfluous characters,” but he also tells us that
The first bit of Seussian verse we hear is when a character not in the book, teenage Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift), tells lovelorn 12-year-old Ted (Zac Efron) that once, nearby their now paved-over town, there were truffula trees, and “the touch of their tufts was much softer than silk and they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” Ted says, “Wow, what does that even mean?” and Audrey says, “I know, right?” So not only don’t you get much Seuss, what you get is made fun of…
By mocking the Seussian descriptions of the now paved-over truffula trees, the film fails to convey the importance of what has been lost due to mass consumption. Furthermore, to add insult to injury, Mazda has paired up with the makers of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax to advertise the new Mazda CX-5:
Regardless of whether or not the Mazda CX-5 is as “environmentally friendly” as Mazda claims, the making of a new type of car and the disposing of the old is not environmentally friendly. And, of course, the Mazda CX-5 still requires roads, and parking lots, and fuel — all things that contribute to environmental degradation. Moreover, ads like these (which are directed towards children just as much as adults) promote car culture and brainwash us and our youth into believing it’s okay to consume at the expense of the environment. Not only have both Hollywood and Mazda missed the point and insulted our intelligence, but they have twisted Geisel’s message in order to promote their own personal agendas.
Geisel once said in an interview (see page 190 of Your Favorite Seuss by Dr. Seuss, Eds. Janet Schulman and Cathy Goldsmith. New York: Random House, 2004), “I am naïve enough to believe that society will be changed by examination of ideas through books and the press, and that information can prove to be greater than the dissemination of stupidity.” As both Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and Mazda’s “Truffula Tree Certified” commercial demonstrate, naïve is certainly the right word as the dissemination of stupidity wins the day.