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How ‘The Lorax’ Highlights the Role of Youth in the Climate Movement

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The Lorax premiered in 3D last month. Some have rightly criticized the production of Lorax toys and other collectibles as well as the film’s partnership with Mazda as “greenwashing,” but the film does a lot to highlight the role of young people in the climate justice movement.

CREDIT: The Pitman Today

I cried when I watched “The Lorax” in theaters for the first time.

So what? Call me a sap for that Truffula tree sap.

It’s just, that quote kept running over and over in my mind. I’m sure you know it well by now: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I know, I know, the film was off base from the original Dr. Seuss book in a lot of ways. And yes, the film was criticized quite a bit when it premiered last month.

For one thing, the filmmakers partnered with Mazda to help push their new CX-5 model car. The whole idea is completely counter-intuitive to what the Lorax story is trying to get across—that industrialization (including the manufacturing of cars) is threatening balanced eco-systems.

And the countless Lorax toys and collectibles also aren’t helping the whole “greenwashing” thing. But that’s almost a prerequisite for a film to get through the Hollywood production circus—which isn’t to excuse the backwards logic at play here. It’s a systematic problem, and filmmakers should be doing what they can to challenge that system.

But since The Lorax has gone through the jungle gyms in Los Angeles and made its way to the big screen in a big way, I found myself really happy that young audiences are watching this film in their local towns—in 3D and with their buddies.

What conversations are they having as they exit the theater?

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Sure, main character Ted may not care a whole lot about the trees at first, but so what? His love interest Audrey does and it’s her wonder that propels him to action. He races beyond the bounds of the plastic Thneedville to seek out the Once-ler and his story.

The Once-ler tells Ted about how he came to meet The Lorax and how he came upon making Thneeds—the namesake of Ted’s plastic and artificial town. The Lorax was summoned upon the Once-lers’ first harvest of a single Truffula tree for its tuft, the perfect material for the starry-eyed and ambitious Once-lers’ product.

There’s a great musical number in the movie about how this one small businessman came to consume the entire forest even as The Lorax protested and warned him of the consequences. The song even alludes to social Darwinism in the mindset of business owners.

How bad can the Once-ler really be? He’s just building the economy, and some proceeds go to charity. But then, the PR people start lying and the lawyers start denying, and well, you get the picture.

It’s a cute song anyway.

The Lorax left the Once-ler with one word—“unless”—and it’s Ted and Audrey that embody that word in the end.

When the Once-ler gives Ted the last Truffula tree seed, he and Audrey have to fight the mega-corporation O’Hare Air to plant that seed for all of Thneedville to see. Mr. O’Hare is running Thneedville by now and he realizes that trees would put him out of the business of selling bottled air because they perform the service of cleaning the air for free.

The Once-ler holds on to this seed for years waiting for young Ted to come along. Ted and Audrey must plant the seed together to show older generations that their philosophy about consumption and the natural world must change.

And there’s the important message: Unless the youth care a whole lot—enough to take the steps to really teach their parents something about sustainability—then nothing will change.

But they have to care an awful lot.

They have to care enough to challenge the big energy companies and their allies in governments. They have to break through the plastic layers of their current reality to search for meaning, and they have to communicate that meaning to a lot of people still stuck in their old ways.

We have to speak for the trees to sow a better, more sustainable, future for ourselves—and that requires some struggle.

Candice Bernd is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @CandiceBernd.

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