Thursday, March 01, 2012

the story behind the story of The Lorax

Okay, okay. I'm almost done talking about my incredible twice-in-a-lifetime (just so far??) opportunity to fly to L.A. for a parenting blogger junket. It's been a couple weeks since I got to see The Lorax and interview some of the stars (Danny DeVito and Betty White! holy cow! Ed Helms and Rob Riggle!), and I'm looking forward to taking my family to see it again when it releases this weekend.

Beyond the incredible Hollywood experience, for this trip, at the heart of all of it was one of my very favorite pieces of children's literature. For that reason, the two posts that I loved writing the most revolved around the transformation of the story from the page to film. Over on 5 Minutes for Books, we have a regular feature called "Books on Screen" just for this topic, and you can read my part one from last week here-- Books on Screen: Dr. Seuss' The Lorax and today's part two-- Books on Screen: More on Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.

I talk a bit in today's post about the interviews with the producer, director, and screenwriters of the film, and how they see the "message" of the film. Since Audrey Geisel, Dr. Seuss' widow, was an executive producer on the film, she had final say over everything-- story expansion, new characters, script, design, everything. I also share a quote from her that I read in the production packet Universal gave us bloggers, in which she states of the movie, "I think Ted would be quite proud."

Well, that wasn't the only gem that I read in the production packet. I can't help but share with you this rather longish quote from the packet, because if you love the book The Lorax as much as I do, then I know you'll appreciate the back story.

I did know that Ted Geisel wasn't always known as Dr. Seuss, for before writing children's books, he was an advertising artist and political cartoonist. The production packet quoted an essay he published in 1960, explaining the allure of writing for children:
"Children's reading and children's thinking are the rock-bottom base upon which this country will rise. Or not rise. In these days of tension and confusion, writers are beginning to realize that books for children have a greater potential for good or evil than any other form of literature on Earth."
Beautiful, right?!

I loved that quote, and this next part is too good to not share. Without further ado, read all about how The Lorax came to be:
"In September 1970, hoping to alleviate her husband's writer's block and channel his frustration at the overconsumption he found in his community, Audrey Geisel suggested that they take a trip to East Africa. It was on this trip, after watching a herd of elephants walk across the African mountains of the Serengeti, that he found the inspiration to write THE LORAX. Seuss wrote 90 percent of the book that afternoon on the only piece of paper he had within reach, a laundry list.
Seuss' writing is inextricably linked to his artwork, and the trees of the Serengeti inspried the book's silk-tufted Truffula Trees. For the first time in his books, Seuss shifted the color palette in THE LORAX from primary colors to a look that was mauve, plum, purple, and even sage green. Seuss attributed this change in color to encouragement from his wife, and as a tribute to her inspiration, he dedicated THE LORAX to Audrey and her two daughters, Lark and Lea."

Chills, people. Chills.

Now, there's one additional piece that I can't not address. The Lorax movie is a big budget, big studio, big-name production, and as such, it's getting BIG TIME advertising. And product connections. It's basically everywhere. As a result, it's getting a whole lot of flack about the inherent message against overconsumption and the linkage to everything from the NEA to Mazda to IHOP. I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about this. I see the obvious contradictions, clearly. But, I also have a realistic view on how things work with big movies, and this is how advertising works. Perhaps it's a bit of a cop-out to sit on both sides of the fence on this one, but I'm not sure that one side is absolutely right, for I do see both perspectives.

The best that I can take away from it all is the small scale. I know that Red, my five year old daughter, has become more interested recently in "being green," due in large part to the efforts of a teacher at our school who has worked closely with the kindergarten class in the process of getting our school declared a "Green School" by an organization that just happens to be slipping my mind right now. She has become fastidious about turning off unnecessary lights and being sure to recycle everything possible. The most recent times we've read The Lorax together, she seems to be understanding more and more about the story's message than ever before. Surely, watching the film depiction will only serve to strengthen her growing concern about the importance of these matters. That's as far as the movie experience will go for us, and I see it only in a positive light in this small scale.

Either way, whether or not you choose to see the new movie, I hope you share in my belief that Dr. Seuss created a timeless and lasting story that is both entertaining and thought-provoking in The Lorax. And as we celebrate the fabulous Dr. Seuss this week on my little piece of the web, I thank him with all my heart for doing so.


Always in awe of Seuss,