Horton Hears a Who! (2008) / Animation-Adventure
MPAA Rated: Rated G, suitable for all audiences
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast (voices): Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Dan Fogler, Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, Amy Poehler, Jaime Pressley, Charles Osgood, Josh Flitter, Niecy Nash, Jesse McCartney
Cameo (voices): Laraine Newman, Teresa Ganzel
Director: Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino
Screenplay: Kevin Daurio, Cinco Paul (based on the book by Dr. Seuss)
It's Jim Carrey's (The Number 23, Fun with Dick and Jane) second foray into a film adaptation of a Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel) story (after How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which, coincidentally, also contained Whos), though he only lends his vocal talent as the infamous inquisitive elephant named Horton.
Horton happens upon a flower one day upon which contains a speck that is actually a tiny world with tiny beings on it. Although no one else believes him, we learn that Horton is indeed correct, as we delve into the speck to discover the city of Whoville, where the Mayor (Carell, Dan in Real Life) must contend with his own naysayers after Horton finds a way to communicate with him to discuss his presence and the danger they may be in if he cannot find a safe haven for which to put their speck of a world.
Underlying themes stemming from the need for community tolerance rather than fear run rampant throughout, as Horton practically becomes a martyr to his beliefs that the tiny Whoville exists. Admirably the story does so without pointing fingers, as it fits any scenario where mob mentality rules, though may will read a religious subtext (Pro-Life proponents in particular find many of the story's themes of interest to their cause, including the phrase, "A person's a person, no matter how small."). The lack of preachy-ness keeps the story at the forefront, as it should be, such that young and old alike will find something to relate to, multifaceted enough to interest viewers on different levels at the same time.
The animation is gorgeous, bringing Seuss's zany, original world to life, through the lush jungles of Horton to the other-worldly craziness of Whoville. The voice work from the celebrities many not be the richest, but they feel natural and never completely out of place. Ad-libbing comedians like Carrey and Carell do tend to bring their own trademark stamps on the characters, but are consistent enough to not be intrusive to the story even with their flourishes (something that a previous Seuss adaptation, The Cat in the Hat, suffered from). There are moments of Shrek-like contemporary humor that do detract from the setting of the story, such as an allusion to JFK, an REO Speedwagon hit ("I Can't Fight This Feeling") none of these characters should know the words to, and an anime-inspired sequence that makes little sense in a world where there are no movies, televisions or Japanese culture.
Despite the injection of a great deal of gags, Horton Hears a Who! is more amusing than knee-slappingly funny, so it's best not to come into it expecting nonstop laughs. Considering that the original Dr. Seuss works were also striving more for whimsy than chuckles, it's in keeping with the nature of the beast to be pleasant and imaginative than a comedy delight. Given the fact that the author's original works were short stories and full-length films need to flesh them out considerably to fill up the run time, we may never see a truly faithful Dr. Seuss adaptation as a major motion picture release. On the other hand, given the spottiness of the previous attempts, which allowed comedians to run rampant with the material to the point it was more about them than Seuss or his characters, Horton Hears a Who!, despite a few digressions that don't pan out, is definitely a step in the right direction.
-- Previously made into a short film for television in 1970.
©2008 Vince Leo