I Am the Lorax, I Speak for Rainbow Sprinkle Pancakes and Mazda SUVs
Dr. Seuss’s beloved book The Lorax teaches kids that a pristine world is one where truffula trees grow, Swomee Swans sing, Humming Fish swim, and “Brown Bar-Ba-Loots play in the shade in their Bar-Ba-Loot suits.” Since the iconic tome was published in 1971, generations of young readers have learned from the Lorax that saving the world from corporate greed and destruction requires that we “speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
The movie version of Seuss’s tale, which finally hit U.S. theaters last week, paints a markedly different version of what a green world should look like, thanks to its copious corporate partnerships: Think Mazda SUVs rolling down a block lined with Target stores and paved with fast-food breakfasts.
Universal Pictures—along with Dr. Seuss Enterprises and Random House—have been pushing the new Lorax film through a cornucopia of corporate tie-ins. You can find Lorax promotions for Target, Mazda, IHOP, HP, Whole Foods, Doubletree Hotels, Pottery Barn, and Comcast Xfinity TV, and more. According to the Associated Press, Universal has nearly 70 launch partners pushing The Lorax and their own products, with many promotions directly assaulting the book’s environmental message.
Take IHOP: The pancake chain makes millions of dollars a year dishing out meals loaded with sugary syrups, artificial flavors and colors, and breakfasts that look strikingly similar to dessert. The restaurant’s Lorax-themed breakfasts are no exception. Kiddie patrons—and the occasional sweet tooth-nursing adult—can choose from several meals marketed around the film, like a “Rooty Tooty Bar-ba-Looty Blueberry Cone Cake,” a blueberry pancake stuffed inside an ice cream cone topped with fruit compote and powdered sugar. Children can also opt for the “Truffula Chip Pancakes,” a plate piled high with “whole wheat pancakes filled with rainbow sprinkles and topped with more sprinkles,” plus a strawberry yogurt sauce that looks suspiciously like icing. And why would parents want their kids chowing down on this candy-coated fare? Because “planting trees can make you hungry!” IHOP’s website says.
As if hawking sugar-loaded “meals” weren’t bad enough, The Lorax one-upped its corporate partnership assault with its deal with Mazda. The automaker paired up with the film to promote the 2013 CX-5 crossover SUV, Mazda’s latest fuel-efficient ride. Commercials show the CX-5 cruising on a street lined with brightly hued truffula trees. The narrator asserts that the vehicle is “Certified truffula tree-friendly,” while bears, birds, and the Lorax himself (voiced by Danny DeVito) prance happily outdoors. According to a report from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Mazda has even teamed up with the National Education Association to promote the car and the movie in public schools throughout America.
Slapping a truffula seal of approval on, say, an electric vehicle—or better yet, a bicycle—might be enough to stop Dr. Seuss from spinning in his grave. But Mazda’s CX-5 is your standard fuel-injection engine SUV, which means it spews greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change the same as any other gasoline-powered car. Mazda claims its CX-5 gets 35 miles to the gallon, but even better-than-average SUVs aren't good for the planet. The fact that Mazda is pimping out this ride in schools, where kids should be learning about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, just adds insult to injury.
The Lorax isn’t all bad, of course. One partner includes the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, which provides tips to cut back on home energy use and certifies energy-efficient appliances. And while the movie’s story line certainly strays from Dr. Seuss’s original tale, the film still features an eco-friendly theme.
Despite the movie’s few positive partnerships, I’d wager that if the late Dr. Seuss were alive to see how his poignant fable was marketed, he’d proclaim the whole thing to be a bunch of rubbulous rubbish: A scam driven by corporate greed, prompting folks to buy things that they really don’t need. Universal would have done a lot more to endear itself to lifelong Lorax fans had it actually aligned the movie’s marketing with its environmental message. The truffula tree has no business appearing in ads for earth-unfriendly items like SUVs or sugar-loaded kids’ breakfasts. Dr. Seuss’s symbol of sustainability should grace the packaging of products like the real “green” eggs and ham—the cage-free, humanely raised variety.