The animated “Horton Hears a Who” captured all the social and political commentary at work in that particular Dr. Seuss book in a way that the live action adaptations of Dr. Seuss works failed entirely to capture the philosophical nuances at work within the subtext. “The Lorax” works on a socio-political level that doesn’t require examination of the subtext. Everything you need to make a decision about ecological protection versus industry greed is right there on the page and in the drawings.
One subtextual component at work in “The Lorax” is the characterization of Once-Ler. The Once-Ler has been the target of evolutionists ever since the “The Lorax” was published right around the first Earth Day. Equally true is that most school districts that have moved to ban this Dr. Seuss book are located in areas where the logging industry means jobs, taxes and more jobs and taxes. The Oncer-Ler is either an outright villain whose remorse comes too late or the symbol of left wing woolly-headed misunderstanding of the reality of the world.
What the Once-Ler has never been is revealed. Until now. The new movie will show what this character who may be a great villain or a misunderstood capitalist genius looks like. One of the greatest things about “The Lorax” in this specific case and literature in general is the power of ambiguity. Left unseen, the Once-Ler can be viewed by ecologists as the living embodiment of the demented offspring of Hetty Green and Howard Hughes. Those who view things a bit differently may create in their minds a figure more benign and helpful to the overall bigger picture.
It could be worse, of course. Imagine a live action view of the Once-Ler. Kevin Spacey or Tom Hanks. Or, if you want to split the difference and go straight for ultimate ambiguity: Alan Rickman.