Horton Hears a Who!
Dr. Seuss is Cheering
What do you get when you take two directors—one who has helped to animate some of the most phenomenal feature-length cartoons since 1995 and one who has contributed to the successful reception and devotion to Monty Python & the Quest for the Holy Grail—add writers who recently “bombed” on College Road Trip but obviously understand an icon like Dr. Seuss and trusted the original material, throw in a great voice cast, who for the most part nail their characters, and finish with the two production companies who brought us the Ice Age animated films (a third is due out next year)? Answer: A ginormous hit! (Ginormous is now in the dictionary and means something beyond enormous.)
Sometimes it is kind of fun to write a review after a film has been released and the public reaction becomes known. I suppose that some might think that it would be more difficult to write an objective review in that case, but I have so often found myself on the opposite side of the critics and the public that I am going to march to my own drummer anyway.
I am completely delighted to say that Horton Hears A Who is absolutely deserving of its initial reception and current success at the box office. The film pays homage to the genius of the original creator of Horton, Dr. Seuss, while birthing the story, in all its visual glory, for another generation who will now love Horton, too. This version has animation classic written all over it!
For those of you who are not familiar with the story or who have left Dr. Seuss behind with your inner child somewhere, here’s the gist. Horton, who is a very carefree and happy elephant living in the land of Nool, is one day taking his bath when a speck of something flies by on the wind just above water level. As the speck passes Horton, he hears a tiny cry for help and goes on a galumphing, crashing dash through the jungle to become the savior of that tiny voice. Eventually the speck is safely ensconced on a pretty pink clover blossom and Horton believes that he has discovered a tiny world that only he seems to be able to hear. The tension in the story is created by a control-freak of a kangaroo who does not want to lose the attention of her self-proclaimed jungle kingdom, creatures who want to believe in Horton but have problems with faith in things that cannot be seen or heard, and Horton’s quest to find the community of Whoville a safe place to live out their civilization in peace and harmony with the inhabitants of Nool and the rest of the universe.
Voice characterizations can easily make or break an animated film, particularly if the actor or actress brings too much of his or her own ego into the soundtrack. Jim Carrey does a phenomenal job of voicing Horton. The directors allowed his personality to be present while showcasing his ability to act. Carrey’s/Horton’s imitations of Henry Kissinger and JFK are hilarious and a great part of what makes this movie so popular with adults, too. Steve Carell nicely counterbalances Carrey as the voice of the Mayor of Whoville and Carol Burnett does an adequate job of playing Kangaroo, although she goes a little heavy on the accent she used for her role as Eunice Higgins on Mama’s Family and then slips in and out of it throughout the movie. Fortunately, it doesn’t break down the story line and I suspect only those of my generation who are familiar with her past work will even notice it. Charles Osgood deserves a place at the pinnacle of narrators and I hope that we hear more of him in movies.
Technically, Horton Hears A Who is spectacular eye candy from the sharpest detail of the tiniest dandelion seed to the brilliant assault of the rich and luscious colors of the lands of Nool and Whoville. The animators have remained true to the conceptualization of Dr. Seuss’s characters and there are even a few times where flashbacks look like animated pages right out of his book. The people of Whoville are not stylized and embellished as characters were in The Grinch, and Horton does not destroy the work of a great children’s’ writer as was done with The Cat In The Hat. This team obviously believed that Dr. Seuss did not need to be improved!
The technical aspects of this feature-length animation can be distracting at times, however. I found myself completely mesmerized by the fluidity of movement, especially of Horton’s ears and the element of water—but that’s actually a good thing because I will enjoy watching Horton Hears A Who again and again and reveling in the sheer art of it.
Horton Hears A Who also offers solid thematic contact. There are two oft-repeated messages that have substance and the potential for adult talk and adult with child talk. The first is, “If you can’t see it, hear it, or feel it, it doesn’t exist,” and the second is, “A person is a person no matter how small.” The opportunities these present for good conversation and debate can’t help but satisfy a wide range of people with diverse dogmas, theologies, and social consciences.
If the movie-going world is very fortunate, Horton Hears A Who will pave the way for Horton Hatches The Egg, made by the same folks who have used the Ice Age movies to practice and hone their craft. I believe Horton will be a strong contender for an Oscar even though next February is a long way off.
Horton Hears A Who is rated with a G as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. There is nothing here to offend anyone from zero to 100+. All age groups were represented at the showing I attended and all were mesmerized and enjoying every minute. Even Vlad, the villain vulture, was quite evil enough without crossing the line into terror. Take the entire family, the whole neighborhood… go… enjoy!
Kathy saw Horton Hears A Who on her own dime. Our press screening invitation got lost in the mail! Apologies for getting a review out a week late…