Friday, February 24, 2012

The Lorax and Message Movies

Lou Dobbs from Fox News accused the movies The Lorax and The Secret World of Arrietty or indoctrinating children. I think that Arrietty is a stretch but there is no doubt that the Lorax is a message movie. That's what Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) meant it to be. Most of Seuss's books are straightforward stories aimed at helping young children to read. Any message is minor (ex. Christmas is too commercial). But, Seuss did write some books that took sides on issues in a fairly strident way and the Lorax is at the top of the list. The message is that logging and manufacturing are evil and that nature should be left as untouched as possible. That trees were cut down in order to spread this anti-logging message is just ironic.

The Lorax is just the most recent in a long line of ecological message movies and TV shows. Around 20 years ago Ted Turner produced Captain Planet and the Planeteers. This featured a multinational group of teenagers who controlled the "five elements". One of the Planeteers was an American and he was a proxy for all Americans as the other four showed him the error of his ways. They fought against evil, sub-humans whose goal was to produce pollution.

Around the same time Ferngully came out in which a young man was shown the evils of deforestation by some supernatural creatures. He eventually went native and helped fight the evil loggers and their heavy equipment. This plot was recycled for Avatar.

These movies are different from movies like Cars 2 or the recent Muppet Movie. Both of those featured big oil as the villain but that was a side-note to the actual plot. The plot needed a villain and big oil was used but the point of the movie was not to sell a message. Cars in particular had a mixed message. The cars were entered in a race to prove that a new alternative fuel was safe while the villains tried to discredit the fuel. It eventually turned out that there was no alternative fuel. It was all a plot to discredit the idea of alternate fuels. But all of this was just a plot device for a buddy movie. The Muppet Movie was written during the Gulf oil spill and oil companies were at the top of the unpopular list at the time. What was needed was someone who wanted to tear down the Muppet Theater. Motivations were secondary.

I always hate message movies. They make me feel used. This is in contrast with movies where the message is secondary. The Iron Giant is an anti-gun movie but that message is pretty well hidden and the message can easily be interpreted to mean that guns are not evil by themselves. Cars 2 can be interpreted as an attack on the alternate energy industry. But there is no way to reinterpret Captain Planet. Polluters are evil pig-creatures and Americans are ignorant.

This comes down to parental responsibility. If you take your child to a movie you should know ahead of time if it is selling a message you disapprove of. If you take your child anyway then you should be prepared to discuss the message. Modern logging includes reseeding and sustainability (and did in 1971 when the book was written) but the story collapses if you include this bit of reality.

It is distressing that so many message movies are presenting messages from the left. This is changing. Many of the superhero movies have a conservative message hidden deep inside. In the meantime, there have been a string of message movie flops. Happy Feet 2 and the many movies about the Iraq war all lost money. Maybe Hollywood will get the idea.

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