Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
And rightfully so, for that seems to be exactly what Dr. Seuss and the makers of the movie “The Lorax” intended. The only thing most viewers will “get” from the film is its overbearing moral message: Capitalism is greedy; business is more destructive than productive; humans are a plague on nature; and the earth must be protected in her pristine state.
These liberal mantras are not only dominating Hollywood, but also gaining the upper hand in America’s schools, ballot boxes and public discourse.
But they don’t have to be. Not if “conservatives” can learn the real lesson of “The Lorax.”
The film consists of a story within a story, where a boy named Ted – who lives in an artificial, plastic city – decides to find a tree to impress his sweetheart. But when he escapes the city, he finds all the Truffula trees gone, and only an old recluse named the Once-ler really knows why.
The Once-ler, in turn, tells Ted the story of how he first discovered Truffula trees could be used to manufacture “Thneeds,” which “everyone needs,” and eventually grew his Thneed business so large, he chopped down every Truffula tree in existence. Despite the warnings of the magical Lorax, who “speaks for the trees,” the Once-ler turned the land’s Truffula forests into a barren wasteland.
Naturally the Once-ler and the mobster businessman who rules Thneedville are cast as wicked tycoons, or as the movie actually calls them, “greedy dirtbags,” whose desire for more and more and more money nearly destroys the world.
Ted, naturally, fights back, and in the film’s conclusion (fittingly to the most hippy of Beatles songs: “Let It Be”) inspires people of good heart everyone to stand up against the corporate machine and “speak for the trees” as the Lorax once did.
The film is visually lovely and contains some fun 3-D action scenes, decent voice acting and absolutely fantastic musical numbers. The writing and dialogue are also surprisingly good, with several moments of levity, poetry and even profundity.
And the emotionally compelling premise of “The Lorax” would be very persuasive, were it not for the fact that the entire movie is a straw-man argument.
That straw man is named Ayn Rand.
For Rand – too often the darling of libertarians and “conservatives” – preached a brand of ethical egoism in economics that said man ought to do only what is in his own self-interest. She described her “objectivist” philosophy as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity.”
And that self-centered, cold-hearted, amoral, even immoral, social Darwinist-type approach to business is exactly what the left uses to crucify capitalism.
For the movie assumes that a businessman will take all he can get, regardless of the consequences or whom he hurts. He’ll destroy the environment right along with his competition, mow over his employees, screw his customers, all to make his business grow and to make more money for himself. Ala Rand, “his own happiness [is] the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity.”
“The Lorax” then comes in and reveals for all to see the complete moral bankruptcy of that philosophy.
In fact, the movie’s most poignant moment is a song in which the “greedy capitalist” sings incredulously, “How bad can I be? I’m just doing what comes naturally. … How bad can I be? I’m just growing the economy.” Listen to the stunning song and its lyrics below:
The answer, of course, is that he’s clearly bad, selfish and destructive. The song even explains that he’s just a social Darwinist; “survival of the fittest” is his mantra, and forest critters clearly aren’t the fittest. Nasty, evil capitalist.
But is this a fair representation of capitalism? Of what “conservatives” say our Founding Fathers intended?
No! It’s the straw-man picture of capitalism the left sets up, only to easily destroy it.
Who says the nature of business is ethical egoism? Since when does Ayn Rand define capitalism?
Since so many “conservatives” have swallowed her poison. By thinking like Rand, many “conservatives” have actually verified the left’s caricature, consented to the straw man and given easy fodder for Seuss and friends to sway the masses.
“Conservatives” must learn from “The Lorax” and utterly reject Rand’s ethical egoism; for it is indefensible, as a mere children’s movie clearly illustrates.
Instead, “conservatives,” those that would uphold the Constitution and the Founders’ vision of a free, capitalist society, must also remember John Adams’ warning: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
This capitalist society our Founders envisioned was never meant to be the amoral, selfish money grab Rand preached and too much of our society believes it to be. That can not be the definition of capitalism “conservatives” present to the people.
This freedom, this right to own property and enjoy the fruits of our own labor that lies at the heart of capitalism, can only work if the people given that freedom also accept the moral responsibility of using it ethically, if they behave, as Adams put it, as “a moral and religious people.”
This is why Rand-brand libertarianism is not compatible with constitutional conservatism. The former is a vision of unfettered liberty, the latter is a call to individual responsibility.
“Conservatives” cannot win the culture war by demanding lower taxes and less government regulation unless they also insist on higher ethics and more self-regulation.
Though I disagree with much of the man’s theology and psychology, the 19th century writer Charles Kingsley summed it up well: “There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.”
And this is the better, truer lesson of “The Lorax.”
“Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” contains only a single, muttered, barely audible, minor profanity.
The film’s sexuality is limited to a few female characters briefly seen in bikinis and a romantic storyline about a boy fantasizing about kissing his love interest.
Most of the film’s violence is cartoon slapstick moments of smacking, crashing, slapping and so forth, though some characters do physically smack others. There are some intense chase scenes, which precipitate some of the smashing and crashing. There is no gore.
The film contains only a few, vaguely religious references, such as “I found paradise” (though speaking about a forest, not eternity), “I will curse you ’til the end of your days” and a character given CPR who proclaims afterward, “I was heading into the light, and you brought me back.” The Lorax itself is a magical sort of being that arrives in a lightning bolt and leaves in a beam of pixie dust, but this magic is neither explained nor conjured.
Parents should be cautioned, however, that – at least in the theater where I saw “The Lorax” – the movie was preceded by a preview for the upcoming film “Paranorman,” which contained several terrifying and occult images of ghosts, zombies, a mention of a Ouija board and more. Small children could be seriously spooked by this preview.