The Passion Of The Once-ler


OK: so remember the 2012 movie The Lorax? Based on the Dr. Seuss book and 1970s cartoon special? About a little fuzzy orange creature trying to save the Environment?

It wasn’t the most successful movie in the world, and pretty damn preachy at times. Sort of faded into the mists of time, out-shined by various Pixar offerings and the standard Ice Age/Kung-Fu Panda franchises.

But I was on my old Tumblr dash years later (as often the case, my first mistake) and ran across fan art supposedly based the movie…of this character named “The Once-ler”:


Wait, what?

The Once-ler was actually a character in the original “Lorax” book and cartoon, though only seen as a pair of green gloves. He cut down all the trees in order to make an item called a “thneed”—and even though he becomes fantastically wealthy as a result, he feels guilt because he destroyed the forest.

That’s it—that is who the Once-ler was. A presumably middle-aged (at the least) man who we never see.

the original Onceler

But the 2012 version is quite different. For whatever reason—including possibly to capitalize on the fad of youthful singer-songwriter hotties of the John Mayer mold—we got this guy:

the new improved Onceler

And that’s kind of a big change.

Did the producers of The Lorax feel that the Seuss story just wasn’t sexy enough for modern audiences? Because that’s why you license Dr. Seuss stuff, right? To get the all-important Hunger Games audience.

And so the plot of the 2012 Lorax moves between the dystopian present day to flashbacks in the life of the idealistic early days of Once-ler. Just an innocent young man with a dream and a guitar, Once-ler is seduced by the lure of commercialism, ignoring the pleas of the Lorax and cutting down trees to make his thneeds—but not before we get some musical numbers and generalized adorableness.


His story is one of innocence being seduced by greed, his successful tree-murdering business sending him to the Dark Side, as personified by the “How Bad Could I Possibly Be?” montage musical sequence:

The Lorax is already a sort of obscure cartoon at this point, right? So a character who appears in a series of flashback sequences is, probably, even more obscure than the fact of said movie’s existence.

Only: a whole fan-culture has apparently been based on The Once-ler.

And this was extremely fascinating to me, that a small but devoted group of fans not only devoted so much time to what might have been a forgotten character from a somewhat forgotten movie…but developed him in ways that the original creator of the character couldn’t have even dreamed of.

And by “couldn’t have even dreamed of,” I mean:


But probably the oddest turn in The Once-ler fan experience was his most popular pairing, called “Oncest.” This involves “good” Once-ler” being literally seduced by his evil side, known as “Greed-ler.”

Yes, it is all about him having…romantic relations with himself.


As you might imagine, this scenario can quickly go down the fandom rabbit-hole, with Once-ler now locked in a desperate, sweaty sado-masochistic relationship with the top-hatted personification of the shadow aspect of his personality.


These fan storylines and fever-dream imaginings then would branch out into more and more “versions” of Once-ler and Greed-ler, all of whom have highly-complex and passionate relationships with each other:


Presumably, the impetus for such an intense fan-following, other than the fact that the 2012 Once-ler is quite fetching, is the archetypal story of the Fall And Corruption Of The Innocent. How “good guys” turn “bad,” in the Anakin Skywalker mold.

Which brings me to Andy Bernard from The Office.


The eighth season of The Office, in 2012, featured a storyline where sweetly goofy amateur singer Andy suddenly becomes the boss of the company. And he turns out to be a massive asshole—such an asshole, in fact, that it’s probably one of the most infuriating TV storylines I’ve ever watched. I mean, I was newly pissed-off every week at how the once nice Andy became more and more of a horrible human being in his new leadership role.

Andy Bernard of course, was played by Ed Helms—who also voiced Once-ler the same year.


In 2012, Helms repeatedly had to address the Once-ler/Oncest issue on a Funny or Die video (the video has since been removed, so you’re gonna haveta trust me on this one) in which he responded to tweets from the public.

If you are having sexual fantasies about my character in The Lorax—a cartoon character named the Once-ler—you need to tell a professional psychiatrist and relationship counselor…and then…then you need to go pay Universal $200 million dollars to make a Once-ler porn.

The great thing is, now with Kickstarter and Patreon we can fund that sucker. Isn’t modern life grand?