Read Across America Day: The Lorax….Movie?

27 Feb

I have loved The Lorax by Dr. Seuss for a long time, but it wasn’t until I came to Yosemite that I really learned to appreciate the brilliance of it. Like so many of Dr. Seuss’s other books the meaning is much deeper than the fanciful illustrations and the made-up vocabulary.

Here in Yosemite we use The Lorax to discuss environmental issues and the impacts of consumer choices. It has become one of the most powerful tools I have for getting my students to think about protecting places like Yosemite once they leave them. The day I read The Lorax to a group of students in the shade of the biggest Giant Sequoia in the Mariposa Grove? That was an awesome day.

Every year on March 2nd, Dr. Seuss’ Birthday, the National Education Association celebrates Read Across America Day; but this year March 2nd will also mark another event: The release of Universal Pictures The Lorax.

I don’t know what to make of this.

The movie is being put together by producer Christopher Meledandri who also created “Despicable Me” and “Ice Age”.   It features  the voices of Taylor Swift, Zac Efron, Danny DeVito, Betty White and Ed Helms.

The first big surprise is that Taylor Swift has been called in to voice “Audrey” the whimsical tree-adoring love interest.  Scratching your head and wondering when the Lorax became a love story?  Me too.  Even more baffling than this romantic plot line is NEA’s decision to partner with Universal to promote a movie on “Read Across America Day”.  Should we rename it “Eh….Just Wait Until the Movie Comes Out Day”?

I’m not completely against movies that have been adapted from books. I’m even willing to concede that many good books need a little rewriting in order to translate from the page to the screen.  But with this movie, like so many other of Dr. Seuss’ books that have been made into blockbusters, I feel like the meaning of the book has been completely compromised for the sole purpose of creating a movie that will make gobs of money.

Nor am I the only one.  A classroom of fourth graders in Brookline, Massachusetts were disappointed by the absence of environmental content on the Lorax movie website.   They started a petition through Change.org asking Universal to change the website. Universal adapted their ideas, making most of the changes they recommended.

Also, according to this article by the Associated Press, Universal has also been more selective about product tie-ins that they use to promote the movie:

“A very important part of the theme of the film is about taking responsibility for the world around you,” Meledandri said in an interview. “So when we made the film, we looked at every conceivable place where we could take personal responsibility.”

While I’m excited about a few of the promotional tie-ins, such as those with the EPA’s Energy Star and Seventh Generation, others seem pretty lackluster.  I have a harder time accepting a green tie-in between the Lorax and IHOP, the Mazda CX-5 (Really? A sport utility vehicle is Truffula Tree approved?) and Hilton’s Doubletree Resorts.  Many of these just sound like half-hearted greenwashing attempts.

I would also find these efforts to be a lot more convincing if Universal wasn’t also planning a huge product tie-in for their upcoming movie Battleship, which will be released May 18 2012. The movie, and associated tie-in products, are being made in collaboration with Hasbro.  While Hasbro holds the license for the original game, they also seem to have a lousy track record when it comes to responsible labor practices. (Although they do score slightly higher on environmental practices.)

I’m certainly not the first person to see a beloved book turned into a movie and bemoan the filmmaker’s artistic license.  While I’m trying to go into into the theater with an open mind, ultimately what I will be wondering is “do the makers of The Lorax really care about the environment?”

~Robin

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4 Responses to “Read Across America Day: The Lorax….Movie?”

  1. wanderdrossel February 28, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    The Atlantic had an interesting story about the promotion for the CX-5. You can find it here: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/02/the-lorax-speaks-for-the-trees-and-mazdas-new-crossover-suvs/253671/

  2. melanie February 28, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Well said, Robin.

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