uhg. i just watched the latest trailer for the newest incarnation of the lorax and it left me feeling confused, hurt, and saddened – basically the opposite of everything the book attempts to evoke. for those unfamiliar with dr. seuss’ the lorax, its a beautiful story about a harmonious ecosystem destroyed by materialism and unchecked capitalism, one greedy entrepreneur’s attempt to repent for his wrongs, and a little boy who realizes nothing short of systemic change beginning with him can restore the wasteland his people have created.
the trailer was bookended by two things that really got to me. within the first minute of the preview, the changes screenplay author ken daurio has made become obvious. for me, the first and most obnoxious alteration was the revision of the protagonist’s motivation for halting the destruction of the natural world. in the book, the boy was motivated by his own curiosity and a true valuation of social and environmental justice. in the movie, the trailer implies he is initially motivated by a desire to impress taylor swift’s character. yeah. not environmentalism. not accountability. but fucking impressing a girl. they traded genuine compassion and critical consciousness for some cheap hetero trope. seriously?
the trailer ends with the lorax — a grumpy, wise, and unflinchingly just character in the book — expressing surprise and disbelief upon learning the person he’s threatening to assault is a woman. this is played for laughs, presumable because the woman in question is much larger than the feminized ideal.
this type of gender essentialism and transphobia is rampant in children’s media, but i guess i’m particularly irked by it in movies based on the works of dr. suess, whose books champion social justice, peace, compassion, acceptance, marginalized perspectives and diversity (of some kinds — the who’s eurocentrism and whiteness is another post unto itself). and thats the thing – transphobia and other problematic representations also stick out in daurio’s prior adaptation of a seuss book. at the beginning of horton hears a who, for example, we are treated to a scene in which the mayor takes his disaffected son to see the portraits of the historic “great mayors of whoville” in an attempt to inspire him. the “great mayors” look a lot like this:
and after walking past several of such portraits, introducing each one with the word “great,” the mayor comes to one that looks a little more like this:
so obviously i couldn’t find a shot of this particular portrait, but it was of a smaller, more effeminate looking male mayor in what appeared to be a blue/purple dress. the mayor finishes his tour of the “greats” here, referring to this portrait as whoville’s “not-so-great” mayor and rushing past it with an embarrassed grin. it was within the first ten minutes of the film, and i couldn’t shake that nagging sense of disappointment — really, of completely unnecessary hurt — for the remainder of the movie.
horton contained another element which stuck with me and bears eerie similarity to another children’s movie lorax director chris renaud recently released – despicable me. both films feature characters with vague, eastern european accents, and in the case of despicable, more than a trace of anti-semetic stereotypes. both these characters are, of course, villains. in horton we have vlad, a cartoonishly dim-whitted vulture and muscle-for-hire who speaks broken english, while despicable features gru, the main character and possible good-guy at heart turned evil by his bitter, overbearing mother. (despicable me also features a heavy dose of retro anti-asian racism jos truitt details here)
playing both gender-nonconforming people for laughs and using foreign accents as a not-so-subtle code for evil is nothing new in mainstream cinema, so why am i posting about it? CAUSE IT’S FUCKING DR. SEUSS AND THEY’RE FUCKING CHILDREN’S MOVIES. media for children, like all media, is designed to inculcate certain values. and these homo/transphobic and xenophobic jokes and characters serve no purpose outside of cultivating oppressive attitudes in young people (in viewers of any age, for that matter).
While in the end, i thought the movie of horton actually kept most of seuss’ original message intact, the early dose of transphobia, vlad, and the “controlling woman,” among other misogynistic tropes ascribed to the kangaroo — the main antagonist — kept a sour taste in my mouth long after the movie ended. as one of my favorite childhood books, i have been eagerly awaiting the release the lorax, but after seeing the trailers and looking at who’s involved in its production, i’m not holding my breath for anything actually progressive.