It seems a little odd that the Once-ler's business growing and him becoming rich was condensed into a three minute montage (cool as it was) in the film, since that took up most of the bulk of the story in the book. But the Once-ler is the one telling the story, so of course he'd want to skim over the parts where he turned into a corporate douche.
Or perhaps the Once-ler actually went into full detail with this part; I mean he fully acknowledges that it's entirely his fault. And I think that the musical numbers are used for the most important parts.
Given that Word of God stated that five whole years pass during How Bad Can I Be montage, that would indicate that Once-ler was deliberately condensing and/or putting off the more unflattering part of his story. Integrity is a trait he is sorelylacking, which is why he's not the hero.
Plus, let's face it - when you regret something a whole awful lot, you really don't wanna think about it. Specially not to tell someone else about it in detail.
The Once-ler's "it's a girl, isn't it?" comment. Ted's doing something crazy and possibly stupid to impress Audrey. The Once-ler got where he is trying to impress a girl too—his mother.
The reason for everyone's stupidity— inbreeding and the chemicals in the air and water (at least for the post-Lorax scenes).
Though it may be just because of how perfect Thneedville is supposed to be and how literally no one except for O'Hare, Ted, Audrey, Once-ler, and Grandma has ever been outside for generations.
The Onceler's business strategy of completely wiping out his source of income seems short-sighted, even from a profit perspective. However, the thneed is shown as a stupid short-lived fad that no one needs. Once the fad died out, his source of revenue would have ended whether the trees he needed to make thneeds still existed or not.
If there are no trees, where does the oxygen come from? The answer seems to be chemicals or possibly algae.
Algae is actually the source of the majority of oxygen in the atmosphere now(remember, most of Earth is covered in water and algae is everywhere in that water, the tiny bits of oxygen they produce adds up), not trees.
Phytoplankton does indeed provide a good deal more Oxygen than trees, but the movie establishes that O'Hare has lots of control and power because he sells clean air, which he makes. How does he make that air, and the very fact that he needs to implies something about the amount of Phytoplankton in the water. Perhaps they died out, and he keeps a culture for himself?
We already have machines that filter impurities from oxygen, it's where we get the oxygen that goes in the big green canisters. As far as air in general, besides the Algae, the Oncler only destroyed the Trufallo forest and surrounding land. It's not so much that the entire world is destroyed than simply the location Thneedville was built on happens to be very, VERY polluted.
That's not a scarf the old Once-ler's wearing. Jacob Marley wore the chains he forged in life. The Once-ler wears a thneed.
The Once-ler's mother insisting that they shift from harvesting the tufts to cutting down the trees represents renewable resources v. nonrenewable resources.
So why the changed ending? Why end so optimistically rather than the bleak question mark? Well, to be frank, in the developed world, at least, the battle has already been won between the book and movie. America and Europe are gaining forest land and pollution of air and waterways is down significantly (heck, there is an abundance of fish in the Houston Ship Channel, Oil City itself). The issues aren't dumping anymore and are primarily old sites, sewage plants, and fertilizer runoff. Even big events like the Deepwater Horizon pale before the outright, consistent catastrophe that was the Gilded Age or 50s-70s.
15 cents, a nail, and the shell of a great-great grandfather snail? Anyone who could get those things, then dodge all the security, and the dangers of the outside world, would have to be amazing. Either that, or people told these things to discourage children from trying to leave.
Something that manages to avert Fridge Horror by deviating from the original work: the other viewpoint of the good things the companies do by providing jobs isn't included because there's less than 15 people in both the Once-ler's and O'Hare's companies combined.
Those shown in the Once-Ler's business are just his relatives; himself, his mother, his uncle, Aunt Grizelda, and the twins make 6 total.
O'Hare has his two goons, the deliveryman, and maybe the two electricians seen at a few other points, another 6 max. It's actually a plot point that he has to enter the chase for the Truffula seed because his only goon can't get it himself and he has so few people to go chasing after Ted.
The alternate version of "Thneedville" would even change this context; O'Hare has a line "Everybody here works for me" which would increase O'Hare's company substantially, but the current version of the film has neither the line nor the implication that the company is that big.
During Let it grow when the two parents admit that their son glowing isnt good it is shown that they are standing right next to someone who appears to be a doctor, its likely that that doctor told them that a glowing child isnt healthy. The doctor even looks at them as they say this.
The Once-ler and Ted bear an uncanny resemblance to each other. So do the girl who buys the first Thneed and Audrey. While the Once-ler's telling the story, this may in part be Ted's imagination of what the Once-ler's telling him; the Once-ler provides the words, Ted provides the movie's visuals. He puts himself in the Once-ler's shoes to make it easily identifiable, and puts Audrey in partly out of thinking about her during his whole quest for a tree and partly emulating the fact he likes her and she may do something like that for him.
OK, so the Lorax sent the local fauna away to find a better place to live. Fine. But how many casualties were there before that happened, that we didn't get to see? I get that Dr. Seuss, generally speaking, is a Never Say "Die" kind of author, but at least a few of those Barbaloots had to have died at some point, whether by a tree falling on them, or starvation as the trees were chopped down. And, while we're on the subject, we see the humming fish climbing out of the polluted water. Unless they were actually amphibians (admittedly, not out of place, seeing as this is Dr. Seuss we're talking about here), they drowned in open air (since they were, you know, fish). Put another way, the Once-ler caused the extinction of the humming fish!
The Humming Fish were seen on land before the water got polluted, so my guess is that they are amphibious. Most of your point still stands, though.
Biggering (the cut song) did imply that some of the animals were dying.
I always took this differently. I always inferred that thanks to Dr. Seuss's Never Say "Die" nature, "being sent away" was a euphemism for impending extinction.
Further, in How Bad Can I Be the Once-ler literally puts pollutants in the air and water just for the hell of it. He was killing them, and maybe even intentionally.
The Once-Ler spent HIS ENTIRE LIFE regretting his actions, you can only wonder the kind of thoughts he had over the years....
Mr O'Hare was last seen flying uncontrollably out of town into a barren wasteland with a rocket strapped to his head. There are a number of things here that could go bad.
Mr O'Hare sold air. The very thing people need to survive. So what if you couldn't afford air? Mr O'Hare has the power to deny Thneedville survival.
He sold fresh air. There is still air in the town, likely from the excess not immediately breathed in when a container is opened, which is breathable, and the Once-ler survived in the polluted air for years.
A cut verse from the opening "Thneedville" song has O'Hare gloating "everyone around here works for me". Some fans have suggested that this verse was cut precisely to remove fridge horror: namely, the implication that mass unemployment would ensue after O'Hare's banishment.
Entire generations of people has either been killed by pollution long before their time or been chased out of Thneedville by O'Hare - Grammy and the Once-ler are literally the only gray-haired people you see. Everyone else seems to be under the age of roughly forty or so.
The guys who worked with younger O'Hare are later seen, older, in Thneedville saying the trees run in 96 batteries. Also in that song, there is an old lady in the parking lot.
During the song 'Thneedville' it says "We don't want to know/where the smog and trash and chemicals go", and then a little boy comes out of the water from swimming and starts to glow. This implies that the poisons are in the groundwater. Which runs into the dirt. Where they planted the Truffula seed. Yeah, that seed probably died soon after the events of the movie. And we just banished the only other air provider out of town on a rocket! Yay!
You'd be surprised how much toxins a plant can absorb without harm. In fact, planting fast-growing vegetation such as willow is used in real life to remediate contaminated soil.
It's a good thing Pipsqueak accidentally ended up with Once-ler during the river scene; if he hadn't, Lorax and the others would have most likely left Once-ler to float off to God knows where, and wouldn't have found out about the waterfall until it was too late (if they found out about it at all).
Just the realization of how much O'Hare was willing to do when Ted posed a possible threat to his business. Now that he's lost everything, what might he plan on doing? He can't have lost all of his connections that easily and he can't be the only person who's profiting from the hiding of the truth Ted brought into the light...
During "How Bad Can I Be", before the Once-Ler releases the smogulous smoke, there are three Swomee Swans flying. After he releases it, there is only one. The smoke either vaporized them or made them fall to death.
What if Ted or nobody else had never visited the Once-Ler, and he died? Then, the world would be polluted forever, since nobody aside from Grammy Norma knows where he lives, and the last seed would remain abandoned in the Lurkim.
In the movie, when the Once-Ler is informed that it's too time-consuming to harvest the tufts of the trees when they're standing, the mother's first solution to have the trees cut down. As opposed to, oh I dunno, using a ladder.
This makes sense since it's the mother saying that they need to cut the trees down; she hates the idea of waiting for her money and would never waste time working.
Why didn't O'Hare Air just wait for Ted to plant the seed and then douse it with a good dose of herbicide? Or, if he wanted to keep the tree as a source of oxygen, you'd think the company could just dig it up in the middle of the night and take it to some secret hiding spot.
Or better yet, just BUY it off of Ted. He's the richest man in town; Ted could name his price.
By that stage, Ted had heard the whole story from the Once-ler and reached a stage where he genuinely cared about the trees. He probably wouldn't have accepted an offer like that anyway.
Why would herbicide even exist in a town that hasn't even had a plant grow in 20 years?
Salt, chlorine bleach and human urine (due to nitrogen overload) are all pretty effective herbicides.
It would have been too obvious. The whole point for planting it dead in the middle of town was to give everyone a big wake up call. If it suddenly died, who would be the person everyone suspects of foul play? The only person in Thneedville who stands to lose a fortune from it's existence.
The wake up call only worked because Ted knocked down the wall during the confrontation. Prior to that, O'Hare seemed to be winning the argument about whether trees were good or bad, at least in the eyes of the public. If he waited and killed it himself, it probably wouldn't be too hard for him to convince everyone after the fact that it was for the best, and Ted and Audrey trying to argue with him would be pointless since there's no longer a tree to argue over.
So O'Hare is interested in making more and more money from the citizens of Thneedville. But Thneedville is an enclosed community. So... how exactly can he get more and more money from them if, logically, they would have to run out of money sooner or later?
It's a fully enclosed society. Closer to a country than a simple town. Money gets produced by economic activity, so the more commerce, the more money there is to have. Finance isn't a zero-sum game.
OK but, what good is it then? Like, maybe it's the socialist in me, but if the world has been transformed into a lifeless wasteland and you have to manufacture air itself then what good is money? No trees, no air, meaning no water by any logical scenario so no oceans and no rain and no real life outside of this city-state. It can't grow, it can't expand, your money is only useful in an area where everything is already owned BY YOU so what good is it? I mean, King Koopa from the 90's Mario Bros. Movie got to the same point as O'Hare, 1-for-1, but at least he was smart enough to see how useless and pathetic this existence was and wanted to get the fuck out! And he was a dinosaur, his brain was the size of a peppermint!
Thneedville as a society seems to have existed for less than 40 years; development was an idea of the Once-ler's when the Lorax lifted himself. If O'Hare took it up himself when the Once-ler's thneed business stopped and that took a few years to develop, plus another few years to get people in and attracting them with the clean air, Thneedville would have only existed about 30 years, perhaps not having but on the brink of encountering these economic problems.
Plus, the valley isn't the only place; the Once-ler himself came there from someone else. Outside trading is still a possible thing.