The song “How Bad Can I Be?” is considered by many to be the relative highlight of the 2012 feature film version of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (although given the quality of the film as a whole, that’s not a terribly difficult achievement). However, the original song meant for that spot (which can still be heard on a demo included on the film’s soundtrack album) seems to have come from an earlier, much darker draft of the film’s concept. “Biggering” (which actually shares a few lyrics with its replacement) is a much more sinister and disturbing song, a twisted ode to overconsumption and the greed and pride that motivate it.
While it’s true that “Biggering” is a much more interesting song in its own right, it’s actually a much bigger betrayal of Seuss’ intentions than its replacement. Granted, the 2012 Lorax film managed to miss virtually all of Seuss’ intended points in the story, but “How Bad Can I Be?” and the scene that immediately follows it are the only times this film managed to come anywhere near the spirit of its source. The film does somewhat neuter the moment’s impact by adding the Onnce-ler’s unloving relatives to the story to serve as scapegoats for his bad decisions, but the song is still a pretty sharp piece of satire for a kid’s film.
And at least “How Bad Can I Be?” understood the material well enough to have the Once-ler rationalizing his actions rather than openly glorying in how evil he is. After all, one of the key points of Seuss’ original book and TV special was that the Once-ler doesn’t think of himself as a villain. He’s willing to do some pretty unscrupulous and harmful things in pursuit of success, but he has no real malicious intent. He’s not even merely a greedy opportunist…as the TV special especially emphasizes, he genuinely believes technical and industrial progress is a force for good in the world, and he actually thinks of himself as the good guy and the Lorax as a misguided obstructionist until everything comes crashing down.
The version of the movie that might have been, the one that “Biggering” was written for, does sound a whole lot more interesting in its own right, but frankly it sounds just as far from Seuss’ original intentions as the film we actually got. Indeed, the gleefully sadistic egomaniac that “Biggering” portrays is, if anything, an even greater departure from the original, tragically misguided figure Seuss came up with than the fresh-faced, innocent screwup seen in the final cut. This film was clearly never going to be a successful adaptation of the original, even in its original ‘darker’ draft, so I’m not really sure how much we missed out on here.