LOS ANGELES — The Lorax, perhaps the most famous anti-industrial crusader from children's literature, is about to become a big-time corporate spokesman.
With a host of commercial tie-ins — albeit for eco-friendly products — Universal Pictures will begin promoting "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" this month. The animated movie, set for release March 2 in North America, is about a creature who "speaks for the trees" and fights rampant industrialism in a retelling of the Dr. Seuss children's book first published in 1971.
The studio's nearly 70 launch partners — including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Whole Foods Market — are seeking to latch onto the Lorax's nature-friendly message.
Movie tie-ins once meant that kids got plastic toys thrown into their fast food meal containers. But Universal is taking a new approach. The studio, owned by Comcast Corp., is being selective about its partnerships, with a focus on planet-saving activities like planting trees and conserving energy — things that aren't usually the focus of children's movie campaigns.
The EPA, for instance, is using the Lorax character to help promote low-power appliances that carry the Energy Star label. Hilton's DoubleTree hotel chain is sponsoring a trip for four to eco-tourism mecca Costa Rica. The Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam is creating a Lorax-inspired route through its garden, which is home to a number of endangered trees.
Household products maker Seventh Generation plans to put "Lorax Approved" labels on millions of items, including a liquid detergent bottle made with recycled paper.
"Our partners needed to legitimately be in the environmental space," said Universal's president of partnerships and licensing, Stephanie Sperber. "The brands and messages had to ring true to the Lorax story."
IHOP hopes to appeal to parents and kids with a Seussian breakfast of green-colored eggs and ham, a repeat of its successful tie-in with 20th Century Fox's "Horton Hears a Who!" four years ago, as well as distribute seeds for planting.
Universal will no doubt get a big attendance boost among families looking for movies that pack a message and from all the cross-sponsorship.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency hopes the movie will help children understand the link between saving energy and saving the environment.
"It's important to connect these dots between energy savings and efficiency and a cleaner environment," she said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. "Bringing together the Lorax and Energy Star is a great venue for doing that."
The film was produced by rising star Chris Meledandri, whose Illumination Entertainment has helped turn Universal into a solid competitor in animated movies with its hit "Despicable Me" in 2010.
He is renowned for making hyper-efficient movies, too. Like "Despicable Me," this movie was made for less than $70 million, under half of what competitors like DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. spend on animated blockbusters. Even so, "Despicable Me" sold more than $540 million in movie tickets worldwide.
"A very important part of the theme of the film is about taking responsibility for the world around you," Meledandri said in an interview. "So when we made the film, we looked at every conceivable place where we could take personal responsibility."
And if all the marketing partners weren't enough, the National Education Association's Read Across America will encourage teachers across the country to read the book, "The Lorax," to children on the film's opening date, which happens to be Dr. Seuss' birthday.