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Dr. Seuss' 'The Lorax' speaks for the trees

Aunt Grizelda (Elmarie Wendel) is annoyed by the

Aunt Grizelda (Elmarie Wendel) is annoyed by the Lorax (Danny Devito) in Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax", a 3D-adventure from the imagination of Dr. Seuss, released in theaters by Universal Pictures on Mar. 2, 2012. Credit: Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment

There are two romances in the animated film "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" that were not in the 1971 book. The one between 12-year-old Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) and willowy high schooler Audrey (Taylor Swift) has been scripted in, but the other blossoms between two original characters: the nature-destroying Once-ler (Ed Helms) and his tree-hugging nemesis, the Lorax (Danny DeVito).

That relationship -- more a bromance, technically -- works because the two actors put so much heart into their roles, and also because of the compassion and complexity built into Seuss' ecological fable. The Once-ler is not a corporate monster (though there is one in the film) but a bright-eyed pioneer reaping the bounties of a Seussian frontier. Chopping down fluffy Truffula trees and displacing cuddly Bar-ba-loot bears, he's a villain, but -- like the Grinch -- one worthy of salvation.

Likewise, the Lorax is no gentle forest fairy but a mustachioed grouch who "speaks for the trees" in DeVito's distinctive New Jersey rasp. Though their outlooks differ, the activist and the businessman become an endearing odd couple, even bunking together in the Once-ler's cabin (until it expands into a corporate HQ). When every last natural resource is consumed and the Lorax says goodbye, it's clear he'll miss the Once-ler almost as much as the Bar-ba-loots.

The added story of Ted and Audrey -- they're trying to save the last living tree from the clutches of Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle), an antinature tycoon -- isn't quite as compelling, and many of the movie's jokes are beyond tired (disco music has not been funny for years). But those tufted Truffulas look great, with swirly tops like the bouffant of a Supreme, and the animation generally feels livelier than other Illumination Entertainment productions like "Despicable Me." Where "The Lorax" succeeds, it's by letting its Seussian spirit shine through.

PLOT In an all-artifical city, a young boy searches for a real tree. RATING 2.5 stars

CAST Voices of Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift


PLAYING AT Area theaters, some in 3-D and IMAX

BOTTOM LINE A lively adaptation of Seuss' ecological fable, with terrific voice work from Helms and DeVito as philosophical foes.

The doctor is in, for good or ill

Long before "The Lorax," the whimsical works of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, graced screens large and small.

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (CBS, Dec. 18, 1966). Animation director Chuck Jones ("Looney Tunes") had worked with Geisel on animated training films during World War II. They reunited in 1966 when Jones was head of MGM Studios' animation division and worked closely in adapting Seuss' 1957 children's book for a half-hour musical TV special.

DR. SEUSS' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (2000). This live-action family film starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch got far less love than did the animated special. Nonetheless, it earned more than $260 million in the United States and Canada alone, and won the Oscar for best makeup.

THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003). Almost universally reviled and not earning back its budget, this Mike Myers vehicle adapting the best-known Dr. Seuss book was originally set to star Tim Allen as the top-hatted cat. He had the good sense to do "The Santa Clause 2" instead.

HORTON HEARS A WHO (2008). This well-received CGI version of the 1954 book featured Carrey again, as the voice of elephant Horton. Director Jimmy Hayward unfortunately went on to do the live-action "Jonah Hex" (2010).



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