America's favourite tree-hugger hawks gas-guzzlers

 

Guy Adams
Friday 02 March 2012 01:00
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The Lorax’s reputation as an environmentalist is under threat
The Lorax’s reputation as an environmentalist is under threat

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.

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