Not five minutes into Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino’s Horton Hears a Who!, we’re treated to frantic pratfalling, animated characters mugging for the camera, monkeys firing banana machine guns, and an Apocalypse Now reference. Trouble was brewing; this isn’t how I remembered Dr. Seuss.
But soon, slowly but surely, nightmarish recollections of the live-action adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat began to dissipate. As the original vision of the Seuss source shone through, I came to love Horton Hears a Who!.
Well, maybe not love, but certainly like. This is a charming, even delightful Seuss adaptation that works because it sticks to the heart of its source material, and despite everything else (an iPhone reference? That’s going to date the film by the time it hits DVD).
Lovable elephant Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey), aided by his gargantuan ears, discovers the microscopic world of Whoville living on a tiny speck, which he tries to protect as he carries it around on a clover. Other jungle creatures, headed by a kangaroo voiced by Carol Burnett, fail to accept the tiny world and set out to destroy it, seeing Horton’s belief in it as a threat to their society.
Meanwhile, the Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carrell) struggles with the constant atmospheric changes brought on by being lugged around by a clumsy elephant while fighting to make the tiny voice of the Whos heard to save his town.
By the end, Seuss’ message “people are people, no matter how small” rings loud and clear, despite all the comedic transgressions added to pad the children’s book out to feature-film length. And it’s a message still widely relevant today; pro-life groups have adopted it as their mantra.
The film’s jungle animation is somewhat banal, recalling Fox’s Ice Age movies with minimal improvement; the world of the Whos, however, is wonderfully recreated, Rube Goldberg-like devices and all, bringing back fond memories of the Seuss books and the early ‘70’s TV adaptations.
And despite my distaste for most of the irreverent deviations from the source material, some of them got to me; an extended Japanese animation parody was particularly welcome.
Voice cast is superb, with Carrey and Carrell a perfect match for the material, and spirited supporting characterizations by Seth Rogen and Isla Fisher, among others.
News anchor Charles Osgood is inspired casting as the narrator, who recites (as far as I can recall) much of the original book during the course of the film.