“[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.
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.