The movie adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” hits theaters Friday. But a group of fourth graders from Brookline, Massachusetts has already seen it.

They were given their own pre-screening last week, a sort of victory party for the young fans and their teacher. If you haven’t heard of this Brookline group, let’s back up.

Environmental stewardship is central to Lorax’s original story, where the misguided Once-ler ruins a blissful Eden in his quest for fortune. The story also suggests that compassionate individuals need to stand up to wrongdoing wherever they see it.

The big-budget Universal Studios adaptation has been in the works for years. As sometimes happens in Hollywood, the story upon which the movie was based was outshone as stars such as Zac Effron and Taylor Swift signed on to the project.

The movie trailer is here:

Enter the group of fourth-graders.

A few months back, some of those students checked out the movie’s Web site and noticed that it didn’t mention the original book’s environmentalist themes. A cynical adult may have rolled his eyes and moved on. Not these kids.

With the help of their teacher, Ted Wells, the students created a video and an online petition asking Universal to revamp the movie’s Web site and publicity campaign. The kids wanted the studio to use their might and money to spread the Lorax’s save-the-planet message.

The petition hit a nerve. One day last month, the class checked the petition site and saw their petition take off. It was drawing 10 new names a minute. “ ‘Wowwww!’ the kids were screaming,’ Wells later described.

The petition drew more than 50,000 signatures and garnered national attention. Even better, the campaigned worked.

The studio overhauled the Web site. It now includes links to tips for helping the environment and to lesson plans. Wells said a studio executive told him officials had planned to add the features but the petition encouraged them to do it more quickly.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my 4th graders!” Wells wrote on the online petition where students collected signatures.

He went on to quote from the original Lorax text: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I followed up with Wells this week. He said Universal gave him 150 tickets to invite his class, their siblings and parents to a pre-screening last week.

Did they like it? “Great movie,” he said. “The green message is strong.”

What’s the next class project?

“Possibly taking on phone book waste or sales catalogs,” Wells said. “It’s up to the kids.”

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