Critics Can’t Hear the Eco-Message in ‘The Lorax’ Over the Sound of the Car Engines

One of the movies opening this weekend is Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, the animated tale of a 12-year-old boy who tries to find a Truffula tree to win a girl’s heart. The movie is meant to have eco-overtones, showing the importance of conserving rather than squandering nature. The movie also has the overtones of the more than 70 product placements that have been blended into the cartoon action.

If that isn’t enough (and yes, it is) one of the products placed is the Mazda CX-5, an SUV. Great green eggs and ham! That’s a bad product tie-in.

In the ad for this car (above), Mazda highlights how “green” it is. But the fact is, you can’t reconcile “green” with “SUV.” Energy efficient, yes. Straight up “green,” no. There is simply no amount of word twisting or message contortion that you can do to put those two things on the same page. But what if we add an orange fur ball with a moustache? No. How about we throw in the voice of Betty White? Still no.

So now, before the movie even opens, critics are blasting it on a bunch of different levels, among them, for being hypocritical, preachy, and terrible.

“The movie is a noisy, useless piece of junk, reverse-engineered into something resembling popular art in accordance with the reigning imperatives of marketing and brand extension,” writes A.O. Scott in The New York Times. He doesn’t even entirely fault the movie for having product placements because “the corporate entertainment system has shown itself perfectly capable of injecting soul into what it sells.” This one just sucks.

Mazda has had to answer for its association with the film. A CBC News headline asks whether the movie is “pushing green doctrine or SUVs and pancakes,” referring to another corporate sponsor. Forbes says the movie speaks “for the SUVs.” And Stephen Colbert does a take-down of the movie, in verse. (Just for fun, the New York Post also give the movie a one-star review in rhyme.)

Certainly, product placements in movies are nothing new. But it’s important that brand appearances are both unobtrusive and are in line with the plot and themes of the film.

If this wasn’t enough (and yes, it is) Zac Efron, who voices one of the characters, dropped a condom from his pocket on the red carpet for the movie’s premiere. On the Today show, when asked about it (awkwardly) by Matt Lauer, he tried a little word contortion for this gem: the “‘better to be safe than sorry’ message he was sending was ‘a great message to add to the many messages of the film.'”

No Zac. It’s not.