Can You Lip Read the Lorax?

I have often wondered how generations before closed captioning survived animated movies.

My memory goes back to the first cartoon I ever saw in a theater. Actually, “Pete’s Dragon” was part animated, part live action. There I was at the age of three with my daddy and big sister, watching a smiling green dragon breathe fun into a little boy’s life. While my mom sat at home taking care of my newborn sister, my daddy took me on an outing that changed my life. It opened a deep love of going to the movies.

Back in 1977, when young Pete meets his dragon friend and I first met the cinema, captioned movies were a fantasy. Any hope of a person with hearing loss enjoying an animated movie was to turn to the person behind them and shout, “What did he just say?” Sitting in the dark, this type of communication would be tedious at best and disruptive at worst. Thank the Lord I didn’t have hearing loss at the age of three.

Fast forward to 2007. I am sitting in a theater with my husband, two kids, and bucket of popcorn, a set of hearing aids behind my ears. The movie: “Meet the Robinsons.” First-run captioned movies had been out for a while, but for some reason our theaters in Kansas weren’t showing many of them. “Meet the Robinsons” was no exception. While I pretended to understand every word coming from the mouth of main character Louis, my kids and hubby oohed and awwed at the words he spoke. Of what were they in awe? The only words I clearly deciphered came just prior to the closing credits. It was a printed quote from Walt Disney: “Keep moving forward.” So I took his advice and continued moving forward with my love of movies, hoping that eventually they would all have captions.

Fast-fast forward to today, 2012. Five years later, I’m sitting in a movie theater with my three kids (my family has since grown). We are celebrating the last day of the school year by going to see “The Lorax.” Since the movie has been out a while, we settled into our seats and had the whole place to ourselves. Ah! Now that’s the movie experience I most love. Then the film began playing and, lo and behold, an animated orange creature with a droopy mustache delivers the show’s opening monologue. Wait…What did he say? Not only were his lines not captioned, but the dad-gum mustache he wore covered his tiny lips. I couldn’t lip read the Lorax!

In this day and age of instant gratification and instant technology, I didn’t get what I wanted. The Lorax was a talking head without a message I could hear or decipher. Does this make sense with all the technological progress we’ve seen with animated movies since 1977?

So I left the theater, hiding my confusion and disappointment. If master film animaters can make a dragon or a boy in the future or a compassionate mustached creature seem so life-like, why can’t they allow people with hearing loss to understand their characters’ words?

Do you understand what I’m saying?

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8 thoughts on “Can You Lip Read the Lorax?

  1. Wow…I would have never thought of how hard it would be to lipread a cartoon character. Thanks for sharing this not so fun experience Shanna. Hopefully we can push Hollywood to become more accessible for all people.

    • Pamela – Thank you for commenting. I know that AMC, Cinemark, and Regal theaters do a good job at providing captioned movies in Kansas/Missouri. The theater today was owned by Dickinson, which doesn’t caption their movies. I’m hoping and praying that changes.

  2. I get it! I do. Animation has made no sense to me over the years. I avoid movies in the theater, all kinds. I would get headaches. Then rear view captioning came about. In one theater one hour away. So if a movie was super important, we would drive. Maybe that happened three times in five years. Last month, I took the kids to see the Lorax. And I cried. Literally. For two reasons. One, it was my first movie post CI. Wow. I mean. WOW!! And second, it was at Cinemark. All Cinemarks in Utah now have captioning devices for EVERY movie. What I could not hear, I read. The Lorax was the first movie I understood well in twenty years. You can definitely bet I was singing praises. Finally, finally access is starting. Finally. If you ever come to Utah for a visit, let’s go see a movie :)

  3. I generally never go to a movie. It puts out a lot of noise (way too much) and the noise is distorted so I need really hear the words. I only watch movies at home with closed captioning. If Massachusetts ever has closed captioning in all movies I might reconsider and go back to the movies.

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