“A person’s a person, no matter how small,” and ensconced in this speck of wisdom the people at Fox’s animation division have nailed this Dr. Seuss story with admirable insight. The movie has something to say, not only to kids but to us crusty grownups. And it does so while entertaining us with a flurry of images capturing the cockeyed visual energy of the book.
Yes, it takes a few liberties here and there, but remaining in excellent form is the spirit, the sense of fun, and the drama that ensues when Horton the elephant catches a speck that holds the universe of Whoville.
Who would have thought that within the speck is a whole world of people, led by the mayor, voiced by Steve Carell. But on both sides of the world, who will believe Horton (Jim Carrey) or the mayor, who is considered a first-rate boob by the city council?
Horton’s nemesis is the sour kangaroo, voiced with prickly annoyance by Carol Burnett. Alas, our crusty lady with a pouch cannot endure the thought that in her jungle of law and order, this crazy, strong-willed elephant is touting the virtues of the imagination.
’Dr. Seuss’ Horton hears a Who!’
DIRECTED BY Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino
SCREENPLAY BY Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, based on story by Theodor Geisel
STARRING Voices of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Dan Fogler and Isla Fisher
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
Of course, we know the truth: That Horton’s active imagination is based in reality, and better yet, in a cloud of compassion for all creatures great and small. His doppelganger, the mayor, is impelled by the same beneficent set of virtues. Ignoring the feel-good demands of the council, he knows the fate of his little universe depends on the goodness of his protector, who holds Whoville dear to his trunk, protecting the town from the likes of Vlad, the eagle (Will Arnett), dispatched by the sour kangaroo to search, steal and destroy the speck of teetering and tottering humanity balanced on a clover.
As written and adapted by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, “Horton Hears a Who” entertains children while not playing down to them. The characters spout words such as “ramifications” and “precocious,” but always the narrative is planted firmly on the ground. The essential message remains good, decent and therapeutic. Grace and kindness prevail.
Without waxing heavy or pretentious, the story, as presented here, has theological and metaphysical implications. Horton can be the beneficent being above, protecting us from the devious forces out to ruin his discovery, and yes, Horton sacrifices himself to save creatures hollering, imploring, praying for help at the eve of their destruction. There’s a socio-political concept in the form of community leaders who prefer bland conformity and plastic joy to the reality of conflict. We even have a father-and-son motif with the mayor and his only son. Here, the movie eliminates the character of Cindy Lou Who.
The last time a movie company tried to interpret Dr. Seuss with “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” they failed miserably by creating an inflated, bombastic mess. Happily, “Horton Hears a Who” is a winning combination of wit, humor, wisdom and profundity. The only jarring inconsistency is a dream sequence that evokes images of a Pokemon-anime nightmare. Otherwise, sit back and revel in the antics as you warm up to a narrative brimming with an ebullient sense of peace and good will without resorting to mushy melodrama.