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March 30, 2012

STAWAR: The hungry Lorax

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Last weekend was the premiere of “The Hunger Games,” the movie version of the best-selling young adult novel. My daughter and oldest granddaughter read this novel at a mother/daughter book club and when they finished, they gave the book to my wife, Diane.

I haven’t exactly read it myself, although I’ve overheard a lot of conversations about it. I gather it is a rather depressing and intense sci-fi story, a bit like Steven King’s “Running Man,” except instead of Schwarzenegger, it features a couple dozen post-apocalyptic teenagers maiming and killing each other with sharp objects in some sort of competition.

After reading the book, all three of them wanted to see the movie, which left me and the younger three grandchildren, ages 3, 5 and 8, at loose ends, since “The Hunger Games” was rated PG-13. It was thus decided that us peanut gallery folk should see the Dr. Seuss movie, “The Lorax.”

The Lorax is the movie that Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed was an attempt to “indoctrinate our children.” He said it was “The president’s liberal friends in Hollywood targeting a younger demographic, using animated movies to sell their agenda ...”

Despite my vocal concerns, including the dangers of inciting class warfare, I was assigned to take the three younger children to see that orange eco-socialistic Lorax. As soon as we arrived at the theater, the “Hunger Games” contingent of our party abandoned the rest of us to make sure they could find a seat.

My strategy was that I would ply my charges with refreshments, hoping to slow them down by inducing a stupor of sorts. I bought each of them a 16-ounce cherry Icee and purchased two large popcorns. Our 5-year-old grandson said that he couldn’t hold his drink because it was too cold, so I got a cardboard drink holders and tried to balance the drinks and the popcorn. I didn’t make it out of the lobby.

One of the cherry Icees immediately fell and exploded as it hit the tile floor, spraying a bit of the frozen cherry concoction on a couple of teenage girls standing in line on the other side of the lobby. Fortunately they were not armed with bows and arrows, so they had to settle for giving me a dirty look.

The grandchildren, for their part, were highly amused by this and just couldn’t wait to tell mommy and grandma on me. I began to wonder if it was all these unpatriotic animated movies they had seen that had made them so willing to throw me under the bus. Later, I told Diane that if we have lived in Nazi Germany, I was certain they would have turned me over to the Gestapo without a second thought.

The stadium theater was completely empty when we arrived, so we scooted into the good seats where you can put your feet up on the metal railing. To kill time we started in on the refreshments. The theater slowly filled up, mostly with kids and grandparents. The children all seemed to know the Lorax story by heart, either from the book or from watching a video of some earlier version. My 8-year-old granddaughter informed me that the Lorax “speaks for the trees” and her 3-year-old sister chimed in repeating, “Yeah, he speaks for the trees.” making sure I understood, dense as I am.

The movie was visually stunning, but kind of preachy. One of the characters is a young man called the Once-ler who invents the Thneed — a Slanket-like pair of long johns that becomes so popular that everyone has to buy one. To make the Thneeds, all of the truffula trees are chopped down, turning the world into a wasteland.

Years later, a boy name Ted helps bring back the trees by planting the last truffula seed that the Once-ler has been saving. It’s true that business people don’t come off too well in this movie. As the Once-ler destroys the environment, he says things like, “I’m just trying to grow the economy.”

I suppose Dr. Seuss could have explained the difference between “good rich people” and “evil rich people,” although this fine of a distinction would have probably been lost on my party, preoccupied as they were with Icees and popcorn. My 3-year-old granddaughter spent most of her time battling the folding theater seat, which kept threatening to swallow her. She also kept banging her shoes on the metal railing. I eventually got her to stop, only to notice that some other kid picked up where she had left off.

Except for making a horrible mess of spilled popcorn and sticky Icee residue, the children were pretty well-behaved. They seemed a little upset during the climactic chase scene toward the end of the movie, but they were more than satisfied with the ending.

Personally. I was disappointed in how powerless the Lorax appeared. Despite descending from what evidently was heaven to speak for the trees, the Lorax’s only power apparently was his moral authority. I suppose the point that Seuss was ham-fistedly trying to make is that “the kind of world we have is really up to us.”

Nevertheless, we all left the theater in a good mood with cherry colored lips and oily fingers. We still had 30 minutes to go before “The Hunger Games” was over, so after a much needed trip to the rest room, we retired to the lounge area. The 8-year-old immediately discovered that slowly rubbing the vinyl covered couch made a loud flatulent sound, which kept everyone happily occupied for the next 15 minutes.

By this time, the sugar from the drinks finally kicked in full throttle and the wild running and crawling on the floor commenced in earnest. I killed another 10 minutes, and about 10 bucks, by letting the children take a variety of pictures in a photo booth creating a nice mugging and grimacing memento for their mother.

Finally we were reunited with the family members who saw “The Hunger Games.” They said their theater was packed. I read where the film set records, making more than $155 million last weekend. When I asked what she thought about the movie, my oldest granddaughter pronounced it “Epic!” which I think is just a cut above “awesome.”

Diane wasn’t impressed by some of the casting, costumes or goofy campiness, but she said it was still about 75 percent acceptable. On Flixster’s Rotten Tomatoes website, “The Hunger Games” got a rating of 85 percent fresh, while The Lorax only got a 57 percent fresh rating on the tomatometer.

These two movies are now indelibly linked in my mind. I suspect in the future, if I think about the Lorax movie, I will remember it the way I thought it should’ve been — featuring a bright orange creature with a bushy mustache, happily skewering greedy industrialists with his lethal bow and arrow.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com.

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