Horton Hears a Who! (2008)

Posted by on Dec 18, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments

Horton Hears a Who

Disclaimer: Don’t ever, ever watch the live-action Grinch or Cat in the Hat. Ever.

Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was not a fan of seeing his popular youth books turn into television and film adaptations, and he tried his hardest to prevent them from becoming so. Those he did approve of (such as Chuck Jones’ animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas) maintained the look, themes, and language of his stories almost identically. When Dr. Seuss died, we saw massive failures from live-action films such as The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch, and finally realized why Seuss was so protective. Those films posed a difficult question: Could you make a feature-length movie from Seuss’ famous short stories? Even if you’re a member of the camp that didn’t particularly like Horton Hears a Who, you have to agree that the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”

The story, in case you didn’t know, revolves around a speck that, thanks to a gust of wind, finds its way to an elephant named Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey). Thinking he hears someone calling for help on the speck, Horton captures it on a clover and tries to communicate with it. Of course, no one in the jungle believes Horton, except for his loyal students, whose imaginations lead them to believe that they have tiny worlds on clovers, too. “In my world everyone is ponies and they eat rainbows and poop butterflies,” one proudly proclaims. Horton manages to make contact with the Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell), who is also treated as an outcast when he announces the discovery.

Horton lets this reality-shattering find get to his head, and sees himself as a god. Well, maybe not a god. An esteemed protector is probably more accurate (which explains the animé sequence Horton imagines). The mayor, meanwhile, realizes his world’s insignificance and likelihood of destruction. The bigwigs in both their worlds, a kangaroo (Carol Burnett) and some talking-head politicians, are short sighted and power hungry, willing to do almost anything to shut the pair up and calm the masses. “The jungle is no place to behave like a wild animal,” the kangaroo says as she literally shelters her child, refusing to let it out of the pouch. “If you can’t see, hear, or feel it, it doesn’t exist!”

You probably remember the morals as well as Horton’s famous search for Whoville in a clover field. Keep an open mind; every voice counts; and a person is a person, no matter how small. The latter has come to be known as an anti-abortion slogan, which is probably haunting Seuss’ ghost more than the live-action failures combined.

Despite the movie’s 3D animation provided by 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios (Robots and Ice Age), directors Steve Martino and former Pixar animator Jimmy Hayward stay close to Seuss’ style. They even take visual jabs at other Seuss classics (Green Eggs and Ham, The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat, and Grinch), though you have to be quick to catch them. The unlikely heroes of the film, like Horton himself, are screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (the team that penned Bubble Boy and The Santa Clause 2). They took Seuss’ immortal 1954 text, translated it to feature length, and managed to keep it in tact, though they do take a few items from the sequel, Horton Hatches the Egg.

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Quite the critical debate surfaced after Horton’s release. An overwhelming majority gave their seal of approval, but a vocal minority panned it. Those poor reviews all had something in common, and their writers could easily be classified as belonging to a camp of Seuss Purists. The purists took great offense to the film for stretching the story by adding modern references and jokes. Their position, quite simply, is that Seuss would not stoop to that level if he were alive and were to write the story for feature-length. Michael Phillips of Chicago Tribune summed up their frustrations. “Your enjoyment of this G-rated enterprise will have everything to do with how much you’re willing to overlook: how much story padding, how many references to Henry Kissinger or Apocalypse Now or MySpace. Does Seuss need any of this?”

Clearly those writers failed to look past Seuss’ popular themes involving politics and human ignorance. Maybe they took into account his stances on environmentalism, racial equality, the arms race, and internationalism. But they obviously didn’t catch his airs against materialism, anti-consumerism, and apathy; because if they had, they’d know that Seuss would have jumped on the cell phone rage long ago, and probably moved right onto MySpace and Facebook for replacing apathetic youths’ ability to socialize in a traditional sense. The point was never if Seuss needed any of it; the point was that we needed it. Through unconventional means that kids couldn’t automatically see through, Seuss would teach them about morality and judgment, urging them to act and change. The purists weren’t all wrong, though. The pop-culture jokes referencing Apocalypse Now, 2001: A Space Odyssey, REO Speeedwagon, and the Mona Lisa serve very little purpose, both comically and thematically.

Some critics likewise complained about Carrey and Carell, two big-name funnymen that distracted from their characters. Why not say the same for Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Amy Poehler, Jaime Pressly, and Jesse McCartney, the other vocal actors? In all instances, I found them to be toned-down versions of themselves, as nothing could be more over-the-top than Carell in The Office, Arnett in Arrested Development, or Carrey in everything.

The point is, Horton could have been worse … much worse. Like what was that other Jim Carrey movie about a fuzzy green guy … and hey, wasn’t he also around a bunch of people named Who? … Oh yeah, The Grinch! Did I mention how awful that was?

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