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Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!
Surprisingly Fun, Entertaining Family Film
by Mel Valentin on Mar 13, 2008
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, the fourth CG animated feature-length film from Twentieth Century-Fox’s animation division, Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age, Robots), is, as the name suggests, an adaptation of Dr. Suess’ (a.k.a. Theodore Suess Geisel) beloved children’s book, Horton Hears a Who! First adapted for a 1970 television special with Geisel (The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) on script and Chuck Jones handling animation duties, Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! showed up on television screens on an almost annual basis, ensuring generations of fans. That alone made it perfect fodder for an all-new animated adaptation, but a built-in fanbase doesn’t guarantee quality entertainment, especially considering a 22-minute running time stretched into ninety-minutes.
Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey), a genial, gentle elephant, lives a relatively carefree life in the Jungle of Nool. When he isn’t commiserating with the jungle’s other inhabitants, he’s lecturing the younger inhabitants of the jungle. Horton is less of a teacher than an oversized playmate, though, and the jungle’s de facto ruler, Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), barely tolerates his presence. During one of his escapades a speck of dust floats by Horton hears a cry for help. Horton chases down the speck, eventually making contact with the Mayor (Steve Carell), the nominal leader of Whoville. Married and with 96 daughters and one son, the mayor hopes to go down in Whoville history as one of the “greats.” Informing the citizens of Whoville that they’re not the center of the universe, but instead a very small of it, however, isn’t likely to gain much support.
Horton, counseled by his best friend, a hyperactive rodent, Morton (Seth Rogen), to keep Whoville a secret, can’t help but share his new discovery with his students. Word of Whoville’s existence, real or imagined, spreads to the authoritarian Kangaroo, who, after failing to convince Horton that he’s led his overactive imagination get the better of him, sends a Vlad (Will Arnett), the local vulture, to find and destroy the speck. After realizing that he can’t keep Whoville safe, Horton decides to take the arduous to Mount Nool, where he hopes to leave Whoville.
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! expands Dr. Suess’ story, both in book and animated form, by adding obstacles, conflicts, and subplots, stretching Horton’s journey to Mount Nool and the Mayor’s attempts to convince the other residents of Whoville that their world faces grave danger. From that, first-time directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, spin out several inspired set pieces obviously inspired by Chuck Jones’ direction of the 1970 television special and his previous work with Warner Brothers and their animation division. In keeping with the family-oriented nature of Horton Hears a Who!, the set pieces always involve some comic or fantastical element, even when Horton or the Whos are in imminent danger. Hayward and Martino only stumble during a superfluous Pokemon-inspired sequence.
Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul’s screenplay nimbly expands on Dr. Suess’ premise without diluting the verbal or physical humor. An unseen narrator (Charles Osgood) steps in, first to set the scene for moviegoers, young and old, and later, liberally borrowing Dr. Seuss’ rhythmic speech patterns and, of course, Dr. Suess’ anti-authoritarian, pro-imagination, pro-tolerance message. Moviegoers familiar with Dr. Suess’ book or the television special will nod with approval when Horton first utters the “After all, a person is a person, no matter how small,” line, a line that encapsulates Dr. Suess’ optimistic hope for social change. To Daurio and Paul’s credit, they don’t go heavy on characters expressing what moviegoers should be feeling or thinking. Instead, they let their themes flow from the characters and the situations. And if that’s not a perfect family-film, then it’s hard to know what is.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Mar 13, 2008