‘The Lorax’ misses someone big: Dad

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I had such high hopes for “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.”

I hoped the producers could do cinematic justice to one of Dr. Seuss’ best stories, but I have to wonder if they even read it before setting out to bring it to the silver screen this month.

If they did, they didn’t learn any of the lessons Dr. Seuss sought to teach children 40 years ago when he wrote it.

Just as the Once-ler destroyed the environment while making thneeds for an insatiable public, movie producers destroyed a classic childhood tale that teaches the importance of environmental sustainability.

I have no issue with the casting. Danny DeVito perfectly voices the Lorax, the cantankerous creature who speaks for the trees.

And the rich, colorful animation brought to life a world only Dr. Seuss could imagine.

But I found myself fighting to stay awake, and bothered by a character that producers did not see necessary to include despite a myriad of other additions: Dad.

He was nowhere to be found, and I can’t figure out why. Ted, the boy who seeks out the Once-ler to learn what happened to the trees, had just a mother and grandmother. Dad didn’t exist. A family picture hanging on the wall in one scene featured just Ted, Mom, and Grandma, as if Dad was a splinter that needed to be removed from a carpenter’s thumb.

Why?

Even though producers added several characters, scenes and plot points to stretch the movie to the 90 minutes audiences expect these days, Dad simply wasn’t important enough.

They added a loving mother, a mischievous yet pivotal grandmother, a love interest for Ted (who doesn’t even have a name in the picture book), an entire town, and a villain with impeccably bad hair who sells clean air.

But no Dad. The movie didn’t even offer an explanation as to why he was absent. He’s Nessie or Bigfoot. Simply non-existent.

Why?

The part didn’t have to be huge. He could have come home from work, kissed his son and wife, sat down for dinner with his family, and said three lines. A cameo would have been enough.

At least audiences would know Ted had a father in his life. But producers didn’t think Dad was important enough to include in their expanded version of the story, not even as a C-level character.

Sigh.

Don’t misunderstand my disappointment. Not every movie or story needs Dad. In fact, Dad’s absence can drive key plot points, especially if the story wants to showcase the real-life hardships that come from fatherlessness: increased poverty rates; more instances of teen delinquency; more child abuse; and higher rates of drug and alcohol use.

I’m not making these up. See the statistics for yourself on the National Fatherhood Initiative’s website.

If a storyteller wants to use those problems as a key story element, then don’t include Dad. I won’t complain. I promise. As a storyteller, it will make perfect sense to me.

But not including him at all in a story that already has so much else added to it makes me wonder what the movie producers are trying to say.

That a family can function successfully without Dad?

It can. My father left my mother and her four children when I was 7 (I’m the third of the lot), and she somehow managed to keep her family together.

That children can be well-adjusted people if they don’t have an involved dad?

Many are. In fact, I count four in my family alone, all contributing members of American society with loving families of their own.

That not having an engaged father isn’t a big deal?

It is. Trust me. It is.

My dad wasn’t around during the bulk of my childhood.  I have no memory of him ever being part of our family.  He was just a signature on a birthday card or a voice on the telephone calling from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.

By the grace of God alone I avoided many of the hardships that fall on children who are fatherless, yet I will never consider myself whole. The knife cut too deep. The scar is too jagged. The trauma too severe.

But as disappointed as I am in the producers for omitting Dad, I’m more disappointed in myself for not noticing it on my own. My wife Karen pointed it out to me.
Why did I not pick up on such a gaping hole?

Because it was just a movie, and I wasn’t in the mindset of thinking about fatherlessness?

Because I grew up without a dad, and it seems normal to me?

Or should I give myself a pass, and say I was just tired that day?

Maybe it’s a little bit of everything.

Some might say I’m looking too deep into the story to find meaning that isn’t there. After all, it’s just a movie. I don’t see it that way.

Kids have a wonderful way of picking up the grainiest details embedded deep in stories. When they see a movie without Dad, and all seems right with the world, they will think it’s normal. We cannot allow fatherlessness to become normal.

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