The face of Dr. Seuss' Once-ler revealed! -- FIRST LOOK at 'Lorax' movie villain

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“[Seuss] gave us the clues on the page,” says The Lorax producer Christopher Meledandri, CEO of Illumination Entertainment, which has worked closely with the author’s estate and widow to begin adapting his books into animation.

Specifically, Meledandri, director Chris Renaud (Despicable Me), and screenwriting duo Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (Hop) found what they were looking for on Page 9.

As in the book, much of the movie is told in flashback, and begins with a boy who lives in the dour, polluted world who goes in search of the aged Once-ler to find out how things went so wrong. (Zac Efron voices the kid in the film, named Ted after Dr. Seuss’ real name — Theodore Geisel.)

The picture above shows the movie-version of the Once-ler in his regretful old age, sporting much longer gloves that cover his arms entirely.

That elderly, decrepit fellow was similarly depicted in the original Seuss illustrations as a pair of eyes between the slats of a boarded up window, and those scenes in the story provided the single strongest piece of evidence that the seemingly furry-limbed villain was human.

Actually, it was his Snuvv that gave it away.


This rhyme explains it (as much as any Seussian nonsense verse can.) It accompanied a drawing  — seen below — of the Once-ler accepting payment from the boy before telling his tale of woe.

Then he hides what you paid him

away in his Snuvv,

his secret strange hole

in his gruvvulous glove.

“If there was a clear sign this character was something other than human, we would have abided by that,” says Meledandri. “But okay, he’s wearing gloves. You’re not going to put gloves on a monster.”

Making the Once-ler a man, and not some twisted fiend, had a philosophical underpinning as well.

“The minute you make the Once-ler a monster, you allow the audience to interpret that the problem is caused by somebody who is different from me, and it ceases to be a story that is about all of us,” says Meledandri. “Then it’s a story about, ‘Oh I see, the person who led us into the predicament is not a person. It’s somebody very, very different.’ And so it takes you off the hook.”

Meledandri said the author wanted readers to feel that they could change things — both for better and for worse — based on their behavior. We could be The Lorax, we could be the boy, or …

“What I think Ted is saying is: there is a Once-ler in all of us,” Meledandri says.

Choosing Helms as the voice was a way to further lend him an everyman quality.

NEXT PAGE: Providing the voice — Once-ler more, with feeling

Comments (109 total) Add your comment
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  • dee123

    Fingers crossed it’s as good as Horton Hears A Who. The fact that Willow Smith & Taylor Swift are listed as voice actors on IMDB worries me.

    • Wynter

      I had the same thought about Jesse McCartney in Horton, but he did really well.

      • dee123

        Jesse McCartney has done a truckload of acting compared to the two here particularly Swift.

      • Robert

        Way to ruin a really cool idea. It is NOTHING like the original story.

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      • teaserman

        Jesse McCartney only had 2 or 3 lines in Horton Hears a Who. Hard to mess that up.

    • Seriously…

      WHY do they need to add things to Seuss movies that weren’t in the books? I’m sure the Once-ler will dance to a rap song, have a problem with pleasing his father, and so forth. Ugh. And dee123, “Horton” sucked.

      • Meg

        Yes, the Once-ler is going to sing “What Do Tigers Dream Of” in the movie. puh lease.

      • Shellibelli

        i thought HOrton was so cute! rerally the movie was for kids, but it was pretty good.

      • DogBoy

        Reason #1: The movie would be 20 minutes long if they didn’t add something.
        Reason #2: What they add is meant to attract today’s kids, not just their traditionalist parents.
        Reason #3: If they didn’t put a face on Once-ler, how can the make the inevitable toys and fast-food tie-ins.

    • Carrie

      Everyone on this forum needs to watch the South Park episode entitled “You’re Getting Old”. Describes ya’ll’s attitude perfectly.

      • Ryan

        I have to agree, and I don’t watch South Park.

  • JR

    this is my favorite dr. seuss book. they better not screw this up.

    • DRG

      They are well on their way to doing just that after adding a “love interest” for the boy.

    • Robert

      Up + Story + Hollywood Brainless Twits = Bad

    • Tego Livi

      The TV special covered the whole story quite well in 30 minutes. It’s virtually guaranteed they’ll add a bunch of stuff that lessens the impact. A good deal of what works so well about Dr. Seuss is the simplicity. The musical “Seussical” was longer, but it incorporated material from a whole bunch of Seuss books, rather than stretching one out with the usual Hollywood “uplifting” claptrap.

  • Sven

    Does not look promising. The last decent Geisel interpretation was the Grinch. Everything since has bastardized his name. His widow should be ashamed of herself.

    • Ana

      I’m assuming you mean the cartoon Grinch not that gawd-awful Jim Carrey movie.

      • Sven

        Yes, the animated one with Boris Karloff. Definitely NOT the Carrey monstrosity…

      • Sue1

        I agree completely, Sven.

      • Jim

        I don’t suck. I’m just old. I can’t help it.

      • Heather P

        I actually like the Horton Hears a Who movie. Fell asleep during the Jim Carrey movie. Don’t think I missed much.
        After watching The Cat in the Hat with Mike Myers I wanted to bleach out my eyes and ears.

    • Anth

      The early 70s cartoons are also pretty excellent–I believe Seuss himself had a big role in their production/adaptation to the small screen. But I have to agree that none of the posthumous movies have done the stories justice (full disclosure, I didn’t see The Cat in the Hat, but that “hat erection” bit in the trailer says it all).

  • joke

    Unfortunately, these writers and directors are just like the Once-ler. Greedy as f*ck. Do we need a computer animated film that stretches the book out into 2 hours of dumb topical jokes and black people’s ebonic voices? Do we need to see the Once-ler? Isn’t anything left to imagination anymore? This is pathetic.

    • Tony

      We don’t know if it’s going to be that yet. You’re just making prejudiced statements without knowing all the facts. Wait until the movie comes out and then we’ll see if it’s good or bad.

      • cloudy

        Well apparently Willow Smith and Taylor Swift are voicing some characters. So yeah, sounds about right.

      • Willow

        It was either this or work at the shake and bake down the block.

    • Cameron J

      Translation: You are not allowed to like this. If you do then you are a waste. Whoever likes this or any Seuss movie is the scourge of society slowly bringing us down to hell.

      Sorry, seen this kind of close minded reply millions of times in millions of places. Judgmental people who can’t let anyone else have a little bit of harmless fun without being offended. Give it a rest and relax.

      • mark

        I completely agree with you.. these people need to calm the hell down. Just cuz they are making this movie doesnt mean that it erases all traces of the original story.. and no one is forcing anyone to see this.. these people just wanna complain. And just cuz Willow Smith and Taylor Swift are in this doesnt automatically make it terrible. Theyre only doing voice work, which is not hard, considering they are singers and can do crazy cool thigs just using their voice.

      • JStone

        Here here!

  • Chris in VA

    This movie sounds (and looks) wonderful. “Horton Hears a Who” was beautifully adapted for the big screen and here’s hoping “The Lorax” will receive the same attention and care. This article is also nicely done. Thanks for sharing the depth of consideration the people behind the movie are giving to Geisel’s original intent and vision.

    • Seriously…

      Chris in VA is a plant. Shouldn’t you be getting coffee for the production team right now? “Beautifully adapted,” my @ss.

      • Cameron J

        I know! How DARE his opinion be different from yours!

      • Seriously…

        Oh COME ON. “This article is also nicely done. Thanks for sharing the depth of consideration the people behind the movie are giving to Geisel’s original intent and vision.” RIIIIIGHT. I have no problem with someone having a differing opinion. Someone who is obviously a shill for a movie is a different story.

    • Melody

      What? My whole family loved Horton Hears a Who. I thought it was true to the spirit of the original, and it was beautifully made. I, too, appreciate the consideration being put into The Lorax, and the choice to make the Once-ler a fresh-faced entrepreneur is rather intriguing. Especially considering the current Occupy Wall Street hubbub, this is a really interesting tale to tell. I don’t understand the negativity here.

    • gani

      Posted on Lord, do I need to hear things like this right now. I’m in the mdlide of a grad school application after four months of being unemployed. Technically I can’t get a job right now. I’m abroad without the appropriate visas, but that doesn’t make the criticism I’ve gotten from family any easier to hear. I’ve been feeling stuck and have recently started my own blog to help have an outlet. Keep up the blogging. It’s nice to relate.

  • steph

    Horton Hears a Who was SO GOOD! I hope this one is as well.

    • Robeli

      steph is a plant. Shouldn’t you be getting coffee for the production team right now? “SO GOOD,” my @ss.

      Just trying to keep up with the negativity. Thanks.

      • Susan Pos

        shut you corn hole

  • Ian

    At first I thought it was wrong to have the Once-lr as a person on screen, but this interview/article won me over. Good design and good concept.

    As for the voice actors – I have no problem with either Willow Smith or Taylor Swift in the movie. It is probably a tiny speaking part that with enough coaching and proper direction either of them can do an adequate job with. What gets me is Danny DeVito who being the Lorax as he seems almost the opposite of what I had always imagined.

    • Dvine

      Really? I can’t believe that anyone thought the Once-ler was anything other than a man. I for one knew the first time I read it that it was a story about the environmental impact of greed, and that the Once-ler was big business/big industry, and the boy represented those of us who hold in our hands the ability to work to make the world clean again. It’s the reason I became an environmentalist.

    • Rani

      Me, I was always pairtal to _Where the Wild Things Are_ ( Let the wild rumpus start! ) and _Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory_ ( A little nonsense now and then/Is relished by the wisest men. )But my favorite from Suess has got to be his warning against oppressive leadership, in Yertle the Turtle. At the end, Mack, that plain little turtle did a plain little thing. He burped. His burp knocks Yertle to the ground, ending his rule: And today the great turtle, that Marvelous He, is King of the Mud, that is all he can see. And the turtles of course, the turtles are free, as turtles, and maybe, all creatures, should be. Leadership conducted without consideration for followers is unsustainable.

  • nnnnnn


  • nnnnnn


  • Pslightly Psycho

    Thank sweet Jesus that since they are going to bring Seuss’ classics to the big screen they are doing it animation-style and not live-action SH*T with Mike Myers or Jim Carrey.

    • Willow

      Jim Carrey = I don’t care.

  • Al Gore

    No, no, I speak for the trees.

    But seriously, this is my favorite Dr. Suess book. Hope it’s great.

    • kate middleton


      I am interested to see this. But I think the 30 minute animation is pretty darn near perfect.

      • Andi

        Trish: I agree and then some. Dr. Suess teaches sucsecs in life. While he wrote To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street in his early 30s, he didn’t fully engage in writing children’s books until he was in his mid-40s. If that’s not inspiration for mid-lifers, I don’t know what is. And, he kept working up until death. One of his last writings used in his own obituary at age 87 shed light on a life well lived:“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”Talk about loving your job to death. Really. For the record, he published three books after he died. Now that’s working overtime.

  • jessica

    I like this article, but considering you have the source material in front of you, and in fact used a piece of the source with the actual word, you should know that it is Truffula, not Truffala.

    • Anthony Breznican

      Gadzooks! You are absolutely right, Jessica. I just fixed that. Guess I was too focused on getting “gruvvulous” right, and missed the obvious. Thanks for the catch.

      • jessica

        And thank you, Anthony, for the good read. They’re getting more and more rare these days on this site, but this was a pleasant surprise.

  • Watch them change the ending to a HAPPY ending…. boycott this

    Hollywood doesn’t have the guts to take on this stuff…

    • cloudy

      I guarantee it will be a happy ending. And then the entire message of the story will be destroyed. Kids today are so sheltered. Heaven forbid they use the ending where the trees are gone and the Once-ler is left by himself!

      • Paula

        What will happen is they will need an equally expensive “Republican Response” to discount the notion that greed can create these issues and there is nothing wrong with deforestation – and by the way there is no such thing as Global Warming. Once all that gets worked out – we’ll be good to go…

      • Em

        Well if you remember… the story didn’t have sad ending. It ended with a beginning, with the Onceler giving the boy the seeds to make a new world. “SO…. Catch!” It’s not a stretch to have a montage of trees growing and Brown Barbaloots frolicking, maybe as the credits run. You people are all so cynical! I think this is a great idea, and the art looks gorgeous. Taylor Swift isn’t going to make or break the film, sillies. I know I will be seeing it.

  • what a joke

    Maybe they can have “Chaz” Bono play the Lorax. The shape is about right.

    • clara


      • Willow


  • Chamber Musicq

    All we need is Eddie Murphy and Wanda Sykes to sing a rap song and the movie is complete!

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