Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hearts a Who!
It may look like a stuffed animal but Katie (2nd from left) steals this movie.


Golden Mug

2008 GOLDEN MUG NOMINEE:

Best Animated Film


Theatrical Release Date: 03/14/2008
Directors: Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino
Featuring the Voices of: Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, Amy Poehler, Jaime Pressly

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” That’s the message of “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who” and it’s a good one, no matter what era you apply it to. Written in the post-McCarthy era, this particular book was aimed at children but it carried a theme that is certainly applicable to adults as well.

Undertaking the difficult task of bringing a Dr. Seuss book to life are filmmakers Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino. Veterans of the animated and CGI film industry, they realized the importance of getting it right – pleasing the Seuss purists and the current generation of children starved for animated fare worthy of using a third or fourth brain cell.

I will readily admit that I was expecting very little from the film. I’ve become accustomed to dumbing down my expectations when it comes to American animation; foreign animation and anime continue to explore serious themes, albeit in sometimes fantastic and ridiculous fashion. I was just looking for a light piece of fluff to sandwich in the middle of grittier, adult-oriented “cinema”.

Thankfully, Hayward and Martino had no intention of just going through the motions and even with a little time in-between watching the film and writing this review, I am still very satisfied with the result. First off, I commend them for creating a gorgeous landscape of Seussian elements.

The characters, environments and spirit of the film all feel ripped out of a Dr. Seuss book. Everything is tilted and askew and bright and colorful and textured and beautifully rendered. This gives a much better excuse for using ultra-powerful computers as part of the film process than “10,000 B..C“. There’s even a quick snippet of Horton’s imagination that’s done in the style of the more classic animation – a much appreciated homage to the previous adaptations.

As to the story itself, I can only hope that everyone has had this and many other Dr. Seuss books read to them as a child. If not, I feel sorrow for your soul. Also, if you’re not reading this to your own kids, I feel shame and would like to give you a slap to the back of the head. The beauty of his books isn’t just the imaginative and fantastical landscapes, characters and events. There’s a message in each of them, that help young kids understand about the evils of prejudice and bigotry – and reminds adults not to just go with the mob mentality (essentially a simplified version of George Orwell’s groupspeak).

In “Horton Hears a Who”, Horton (Jim Carrey) refers to a kind and sweet elephant. He discovers a clover with a peculiar speck on it. The peculiarity is that inside this speck lives an entire city of minuscule denizens called Whos. Thanks to his big ears, Horton can hear their tiny voices and he strikes up a friendship with the mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell). Because of the precariousness of being a speck on a clover, Horton agrees to take Whoville to a safe spot so their city won’t be destroyed.

Of course, along the way there are complications. The jungle of Nool, where Horton lives, is ruled by a no-nonsense kangaroo (Carol Burnett). When Horton explains to her what the clover contains, she thinks he’s being foolish and is afraid his message that “a person is a person, no matter how small” is dangerous to the structure of their society. She wants Horton to destroy the clover but he refuses and rushes off to complete his task. Infuriated, the kangaroo enlists the services of a slightly insane and nefarious bird (Will Arnett) to track Horton down and destroy the clover.

Fairly simple story, sure. However, within the film is that clear moral and more importantly to the enjoyment factor, a lot of laughs. I’m not kidding when I say that both Elizabeth Edgemont and myself were legitimately amused by the overall picture, and in stitches concerning the character of Katie. She’s one of the animal children (though what kind of animal is up for debate) that Horton tries to impart his jungle knowledge to in a vague classroom sort of way. And while I don’t want to give any of her precious dialogue or screen antics away, let me just say that whenever she was on-screen my eyes were glued to her and she utters one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard from an animated character not on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup.

All of the voice talent is well-suited to their characters, especially and most importantly, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell and Carol Burnett. They bring their wonderfully designed and animated characters to that next level, providing distinct characters with more than just simple ideals and one-liners. And it’s not just them, every jungle-inhabitant has a unique and fun quality to them. While I would especially point out the monkeys and apes, there’s a lot of heart to the film and that shines through – no mater what animal is on-screen.

Now, at first blush, I could understand some skepticism when it comes to casting Carrey and Carell, for fear that their ad-libbing antics could derail the project from its core. However, whether by their own choosing and/or the coaxing of the filmmakers, the central elements of the book are intact. And even in the new scenes, written/improvised to expand the story to feature-length, everything still feels like it fits into the world of Horton.

Well, almost everything. There is one scene in which Horton imagines himself a hero of epic proportions and the film shifts into a Pokemon-era anime. While this may not have been something Dr. Seuss would have come up with (though who knows), it was one of the funniest segments in the film. Having been too old to get into that particular brand of animation, I thought the send-up on it was perfect and added yet another element of imagination to the film. And who doesn’t love elephants that can throw fireballs? No one, that’s who.

Theodore Geisel’s wife, Audrey, who is in charge of his works’ adaptations, was the executive producer on the film. She signed off on the elements brought to life and from every report I’ve read, she’s a big fan of what Haywood and Martino have done with the material. You can count me in as well and I’m giving “Horton Hears a Who!” a 4 out of 5. It gets the extra nudge because this is the standard to which animated kids’ films should be made. If the general quality of animated fare was a bit higher, I might have only given out a 3 but seeing as this blew away my ho-hum expectations, I’ll stick with the higher mark.

If you’ve got kids, this film is actually something that won’t feel like torture when you’re dragged into the theater. Even if you don’t have any (to the best of your knowledge), I still recommend the film. It’s funny, full of heart and a wonderful adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book. And you really shouldn’t miss out on Katie, her character is worth the price of a ticket alone.

Extra trivia tidbit: Will Arnett was originally going to be the voice of K.I.T.T. in the revamped (terrible) “Knight Rider”. Due to contractual obligations as the commercial voice of GMC, being the mouthpiece for a Ford Mustang just wasn’t going to fly. In stepped the first nipple-suited Batman, Val Kilmer (oh, how the mighty have fallen … and I am a fan).