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.
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.
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.
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.
Amen, wise one! And wise wife! Love you guys!
Maybe here’s something that might light a fire of imagination. A clue, if you will.
In the movie, when Ted, his mother, and his grandfather are having dinner, there are only three of them at the table.
A fourth place is set, with an untouched meal and a chair.
Maybe Dad isn’t so absent as you think.
Or perhaps the extra setting is for a sibling or another grandparent who has yet to come to the table. There’s no way to tell.
But the producers added so many characters, would it have been so hard to have included Dad in a picture hanging on the wall? Or a casual mention in conversation?
Perhaps he was stuck in traffic on the drive home from work. Perhaps he was on a business trip. Perhaps he died when Ted was younger. Or maybe he was a deadbeat dad, and the family is better off without him.
All I know is that by not including him at all, the movie has a subtext that fathers are irrelevant. And that is a shame.
Actually neither ted nor the once-ler had a father and i kept thinking, just what message was being sent to our kids? For me the question came from my nephew just last night as we watched the animation for the millionth time…. He said, ‘teds dad and mine are probably together’ i asked him where and he said ‘wherever fathers go…’
naturally i was speechless. Then he added ‘even onceler doesnt have a dad’
I don’t know how I would have replied, Kani, but it breaks my heart to know that so many kids wonder where their fathers go.
That isn’t a fourth place setting. It’s the food. You know how you bring the meal, and set it on the table for everyone to get what they want?? That’s what the fourth plate is.
I loved the movie. I think you are thinking too hard about it. Not everyone has a dad in their life. Get over it. And many kids are better off not having their dad in their lives. If all someone gets out of this movie is that a dad is missing, I think they’re missing something in their own life. And as for missing the environmental issue..really??? Maybe you were too busy looking at other things not to get it. I got the message loud and clear. And for the record, the reason I came across your article was because it crossed my mind for a second and I was curious about there not being a dad but it was just that..curiousity for a moment. Now that I know there hasn’t been a reason given..my thoughts on it are who cares! There doesnt need to be a reason! Some families include a dad. Some don’t! Some have two mothers, some have two fathers! It’s just how it is. There’s nothing sad about it. Ted has two wonderful people who obviously love him and he seems pretty well adjusted. He’s caring and respectful and doing more than anyone else in that town. Why not look at what’s there instead of what’s missing? Because to me that’s what’s sad about this whole thing..That that’s how you’d rather think.
I agree, well written article! But the once-ler also did not have a father. Maybe the absence of Ted’s father was to draw a connection between the two?
Does noone realize the Once-ler and Ted look alike from when the onceler was younger and ted now??
Maybe the onceler is his dad? Or maybe grandad?
Been a long time since this post but found it while googling what I observed as an absence of dads in a few Seuss movies. The Lorax, the new Grinch, and the Cat in the Hat. Not sure if maybe there’s a common writer or producer who may have grown up fatherless, but the lack of dads in all these films became very apparent.