Archive Review: Horton Hears a Who! (2008)

It will always remain a mystery as to what took so long for just a good old computer animation version of a Dr. Seuss story. “The Grinch” and “The Cat in the Hat” had their entertainment value, but the confines of the real world simply don’t reflect the towering imagination of one Mr. Theodor Geisel. “Horton Hears a Who!” conveys that spirit of wacky yet message-driven entertainment.

The iconic elephant, voiced by Jim Carrey and tailored to his talents as a comic actor, is playfully naive in this adaptation from “Ice Age” studio 20th Century Fox Animation. His sense of unbound imagination and inherent goofiness will resonate well with children as that rare combination of coming off both as friend and mentor. Surrounded by a Seuss-appropriate cast of the oddest creatures, his story of discovering an entire world of Whos upon a speck resting on a flower is the closest children’s stories will ever get to the sense of cosmic existentialism and for that reason it’s a powerful story to be able to be told at such a basic level.

“Horton Hears a Who!” pits two ideologies — one a clear winner from the get-go — against each other: imagination versus common sense. Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) believes Horton telling the children of the jungle that there are tiny people in this speck is a poisonous idea and she’ll stop at nothing to control the way her little one and the other children see the world. In the real world, the clear winner is Kangaroo, but rightfully so in a children’s story, it’s imagination that will take the day. Despite that inevitable conclusion, “Horton” is attention-grabbing with a bright sense of humor and ceaseless charisma.

Few films blend genuinely clever humor with physical kid humor, but “Horton” does both with little extra effort. There are the nonsensical gags such as the little gerbil-like character who makes the most bizarre facial expressions and mentions that in her little world the people “eat rainbows and poop butterflies.” The delivery is the adult-geared joke and the word “poop” catches the youngsters off-guard too. One sequence is a Horton spoof on anime which is simply hilarious if you have seen any anime before, but even if kids haven’t, the fast-tempo of this bizarre sequence with Horton pretending he’s a ninja will elicit laughs.

Animation is not a focal point with this story. Fox has gone for a cartoony look that best exemplifies the bright bold colors of the Seuss books. A Seuss adaptation should without question have a look of its own and not conform to most animation studios nearly unflappable belief that more realism in animation is better. Fox picks and chooses where to be realistic (use of light, being one example).

The central moral of “a person’s a person, no matter how small” lies at the center of “Horton,” but doesn’t squeeze its way in or dominate the story to the point where the ending is cheesy. Well, the whole cast singing “Can’t Fight this Feeling” is a little cheesy, but it’s also reflective of how joyfully random the film is.

4/5 Stars

Horton Hears a Who! (2008)
Directed by Jimmy Heyward, Steve Martino
Written by Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul, Dr. Seuss
Starring: (voices) Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett


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