How Not To Do Environmentalism For Kids In ‘The Lorax’ Movie

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David Roberts unleashes a righteous rant on the disaster that looks like it will be a new adaptation of The Lorax:

While I agree with a lot of David’s criticism, including of the transition of the Lorax to a comedic figure, the personification of evil in a way that doesn’t require collective blame, and the insult to children’s intelligence, but I’d be curious to hear his thoughts on a couple of questions.

1) Collective responsibility is an important principle, but isn’t identifying specific villains also sometimes necessary? As with the financial crisis, there’s space between the “we’re all to blame” perspective and the “Bernie Madoff is the sole villain” view that’s pervading popular culture. Someone like Don Blankenship is uniquely evil, and worth calling out specifically, both for his environmental degradation of the Appalachians and for his disgusting record of disdain for his workers’ rights and safety. Does it make sense to draw general principals from specific examples, to illustrate a web of environmental interconnectedness? Villains can be a hook, rather than a distraction.

2) When it comes to kids, what should our asks or action items be? Getting children to start making responsible choices when it comes to sustainability, reusability, and the environment is important, but when they don’t have that much consuming power, what should the message be? I don’t think the overall framing of the movie is brilliant, but the idea that it wants to communicate a sense of wonder about a natural world kids may take for granted is not a bad one.

3) How do we draw the balance between respecting children’s intelligence and overwhelming them? If I read The Lorax to a young child, I’m not sure I’d expect them to get the argument that the vanished trees are an anchor species for the ecosystem. Instead, I’d focus on a sense of wonder and inherent value for the trees themselves. But if anyone here has a better grasp of early childhood education and elementary learning than I do, I’d be curious as to your thoughts on when these kinds of concepts are likely to stick and how we achieve that balance. At the end of the day, this is a mass market entertainment. I’m eager to respect children and young adults, and deeply appreciative of fiction that does. But I think the best tends to work at different levels for readers of different ages and often to reward re-reading, so I’m curious as to where folks thinks we might most productively aim certain messages.