Samantha Sharf | Oh, the places you’ll go with Dr. Seuss
Elements of Style | ‘The Lorax’ allows students to revisit the wonders of Dr. Seuss
March 27, 2012, 11:47 pm · Updated March 30, 2012, 12:26 am·
Elements of Style
In college, we’re trained to deal with big ideas and tough questions. But sometimes, the simplest lessons are key.
Its frequent appearance in high-school yearbooks and college graduation speeches have made Dr. Seuss’ “Congratulations! Today is your day,” from Oh, The Places You’ll Go! a cliché. But that does not make the book’s message of self-reliance any less true or important.
The same goes for the phrase, “don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.” But perhaps, it should be re-written as “don’t forget to read Dr. Seuss.” Doing so will — at the very least — put a smile on your face and awaken an idea in your head.
My Seussical reawakening began when I went to see the new film adaptation of the 1971 classic The Lorax.
In the film, bushes are inflatable, air is bottled and trees come with remote controls. Light bulb leaves can be set to spring, autumn or disco.
The movie begins with a furry orange Danny DeVito declaring, “I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees and I would like to say a few words if you please.” The film quickly deviates from Seuss’ original when the audience is introduced to Ted, a young resident of the treeless Thneedville who wants to impress the girl of his daydreams with a real, living tree. In the process he comes to care not only about his crush but about the trees as well.
Since opening on March 2, the film has taken in $177.3 million. After holding the one and two earning spots in the North American box office rankings for three weeks, “The Lorax” dropped to third this weekend behind “The Hunger Games,” a darker adaptation of a book also intended for young readers.
Despite its commercial success, A.O. Scott of The New York Times criticized the movie for over saturating Seuss’ simple moral allegory with too much story, much too much glitz and more than a pinch of hypocrisy.
He wrote, “Its relationship to Dr. Seuss’ book is precisely that of the synthetic trees that line the streets of Thneedville to the organic Truffulas they have displaced. The movie is a noisy, useless piece of junk, reverse-engineered into something resembling popular art in accordance with the reigning imperatives of marketing and brand extension.”
While Scott made some valid points, he missed the big one. Through the movie’s bright colors and over-the-top musical numbers, the book’s earnest (and oh-so-quotable) message still reigns supreme:
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
In addition to appearing in the film’s dialogue, Dr. Seuss’ quote is featured in text form before the credits and the idea is woven through the storyline.
The thrill of reading Dr. Seuss comes from those catchy lines that get stuck in your head. As children, these rhymes taught us how to read, to count and to distinguish a red fish from a blue fish. Today, they serve as potent reminders of moral lessons many of us forgot long ago.
Melissa Jensen teaches an English course called “The Cat in the Sorting Hat: Writing and Reading Children’s Literature.” She wrote in an email that Seuss was significant because he recognized “how a small child’s mind really works, using nonsense and color and repetition and simple words, to create books that were both entertaining and educational.”
She guessed that The Lorax was among the earliest environmentally conscious books written for children. “Paired with the message that one person, each person can make a difference,” she noted, “that’s pretty amazing.”
This semester Jensen’s course started with pictures books and has progressed to young adult fiction. Last week her students read Ella Enchanted and next week they will take on The Hunger Games.
Adults should read these types of books, Jensen wrote, “because nothing is ever as colorful again as it was when we were adolescents or teens.” She noted that, “reading (well-written) books for that audience can bring back some of that color.”
Despite its imperfections, the film introduced the simple wonder of Dr. Seuss to another generation. At the same time, it gave all of us a chance to revisit that same wonder. And for that, I am grateful.
Samantha Sharf, a former Managing Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian, is a College senior from Old Brookville, N.Y. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Elements of Style appears every Wednesday.