America's favourite tree-hugger hawks gas-guzzlers

  • @guyadams

For more than 40 years, liberal America's children have been enchanted by the Lorax, a furry Dr Seuss character, with an extravagant moustache who sums up his role in life with an oft-repeated catchphrase: "I speak for the trees!"

The book, a cautionary tale about what happens when big logging firms wield chainsaws with impunity, is such a compelling call-to-arms for young eco-warriors that it has been banned from schools and libraries in regions dependent on the forestry industry.

But now Hollywood is calling. With a star-studded cartoon version of his story about to hit cinemas, the Lorax has a new role in life. He no longer speaks for the "Truffala" trees of his native land. Instead, this orange-haired so-called environmentalist speaks out on behalf of the makers of SUVs.

In a move that exhibits a very un-American grasp of irony, Dreamworks, the studio behind the big-budget project, has negotiated a string of lucrative endorsement deals for its supposedly anti-industrial protagonist. As a result, the Lorax, an alleged opponent of naked capitalism, now boasts roughly 70 "promotional partners".

Most unlikely of them all is Mazda, maker of petrol-guzzling cars. After cutting a large cheque, the firm has been allowed to use the film to promote its new CX-5, an SUV. A new television ad says the vehicle, which is not even a hybrid, has been "Truffala tree approved".

The firm has meanwhile been touring US schools. Their mission: to talk Lorax fans into persuading parents to visit their local Mazda dealership for a test drive. Each child who does so, will earn $25 for their school's library.

All of which is sparking a furious backlash. "I track school advertising for a living," Josh Golin, of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told The Washington Post. "This is among the most outrageous examples of any school advertisement programme I've ever heard of. It's absolutely jaw-dropping."

Stephen Colbert, the satirist, devoted a segment of his show this week to explaining the "thick irony" of the Lorax "hawking" SUVs. Multiple bloggers expressed outrage at what they saw as a campaign to "indoctrinate" children.

The affair illustrates a growing problem: in an era of rising budgets and flat box-office receipts, film studios increasingly-reliant on tie-ins. Although Dreamworks admits the Mazda deal sparked "a big discussion," a spokesman told The Los Angeles Times they had deemed it a "good choice" because the CX-5 is 15 per cent more fuel efficient than rival cars.