A fourth grade class reminds Universal Pictures that “The Lorax” should still speak for the trees.
The Lorax was first published in 1971 and has inspired four decades of children toward lives and careers of ecological integrity, though early response to the book didn’t portend to the enduring legacy of its influence. The Lorax depicts the interdependence of all life and serves as an elegy about the consequences that follow when human activity loses sight of that fact. It invites us to do more than “yap-yap” at what is “Bad! Bad! Bad!” The Lorax calls each of us to respond in the face of greed and imbalance.
Some critics worry that Universal’s adaptations—adding a good measure of humor to the otherwise gloomy, brooding disposition of the Lorax (ala Danny DeVito) and a love story (ala Zac Efron and Taylor Swift)—may bury the ecological message.
Ted Wells’ fourth grade class was also concerned.
After watching the trailer, the students from Brookline, Massachusetts worried that the film was missing an opportunity to inspire a new generation of kids. The film’s website, they observed, needed more information about the environment for kids who might want to learn or do more.
They wrote: “We’d like to see the movie live up to the potential of the book.” (The whole of their petition to Universal can be found here. It’s a worthwhile read.)
Then, they watched as the petition collected some 57,000 signatures.
As the signatures mounted, students began noticing changes on the site. A link went down. A new trailer uploaded. They wondered, might their message have reached Universal? And then—and then!—“a green truffula tree” appeared, linking visitors to “The Lorax Project,” established years earlier through a collaboration among Dr. Seuss Enterprises, Random House and Conservation International. The site features games, activities and information about efforts to protect endangered forests and species around the world. It appears that the students’ petition pushed Universal to, at the very least, more immediately and prominently include environmental themes in its marketing and promotional material for the film.
You can read an account of the phone call teacher Ted Wells received from Universal at the end of last month here. Also, Allan MacDonnel from takepart.com wrote more about the petition, and Universal’s response, here.
In retrospect, Ted Wells said he was just “acting out hope.”
Here’s what hope looks like when it takes wing:
Just witness the children’s responses, their jubilation upon realizing what they accomplished, as captured by this video.
Soon thereafter, the folks at change.org gifted the students a “thank you” video that tells the story of these remarkable students in grand Seussical style:
“You all should be incredibly proud
Your voices were heard, you shouted out loud!
Because of you, Universal did what was right.
They let the Lorax speak for the trees on their site.
We hope you continue to fight the good fight.
You help us all feel that the future is bright.
We thank you for caring a whole awful lot.
Just look at how much better everything got.”
I join in the chorus sending out thanks to the fourth graders of Ted Wells’ class. What really strikes me, regardless of Universal’s next move, is that another group of children has internalized the lesson at the heart of the Lorax: that we must “care an awful lot,” and when we care enough to reach beyond ourselves, you never quite know what cascade of events might follow.
By Rebecca Altman