Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a WhoBy Karen Wilson
MPAA Rating: G
Release Date: March 14, 2008
Runtime: 1 hour 28 minutes
Summary: On the 15th of May in the jungle of Nool, a friendly elephant named Horton is minding his own business when he hears a mysterious scream come from a speck. Catching the golden speck on a clover, Horton discovers it contains a whole separate world, the town of Who-ville and its residents, the Whos. Horton vows to the Mayor of Who-ville to protect the precarious Whos, but a meddling mother Kangaroo doesn't believe Horton's story. She decides Horton's belief in the miniscule Whos is detrimental to the jungle and will do anything to destroy his clover.
Violence/Gore: A number of precarious situations for Horton and his Whos, from monkeys pelting Horton with bananas to crossing a rickety, disintegrating wooden bridge with the clover in his trunk. Kangaroo also enlists the help of a scary buzzard named Vlad to attack Horton's clover.
Profanity: There's some childish talk of "pooping butterflies" and calling the Mayor a "boob."
Which Kids Will Like It?
The springy, bright shapes of the elastic Whos and the (mostly) kindly jungle folk should charm children of all ages. The general admission rating makes the action scenes appropriate for even the very young, though there are some moments of intense Who-ville-protecting drama.
Will Parents Like It?
The singsong storytelling of Dr. Seuss will be familiar to any picture book reading parents, as will the moral fortitude of Horton. The film does drag towards the conclusion, but the triumphant ending is rousing for the whole audience.
Kaboose Review: Author Theodor Seuss Geisel loved to use seemingly simplistic characters to tell grand moral stories, from the environmental finger wagging of The Lorax to the mixed up social order of The Cat in the Hat. When he created the lovable elephant Horton, Seuss put into his mouth some of the most memorable maxims of single-mindedness—"a person's a person, no matter how small" and "I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant is faithful one hundred percent." These aphorisms and Horton's admirable steadfastness have faithfully migrated from the picture book page to the silver screen in a new cartoon version of Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who!
The rubber faced Jim Carrey—a veteran of Dr. Seuss adaptations, previously playing the Grinch in the live action How the Grinch Stole Christmas—provides the voice for Horton. As a teacher of the jungle's youth, Horton is expected to set a good example in the community, particularly by the meddlesome and judgmental Kangaroo (Carol Burnett). Horton discovers another well-intentioned public servant in the Mayor of Who-ville (Steve Carell), one of the leaders of the tiny town Horton hears calling for help from a tiny speck on a clover. Like Horton, the Mayor struggles to do what is best for his community, and for his enormous family of 96 daughters and one son. Nothing bad has ever happened in Who-ville, so it's difficult for him to convince the blithe Whos that the mysterious tremors and weird weather is caused by the precariousness of their speck-sized home.
The screenwriting team of Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul cleave pretty closely to Seuss's epigrammatic tone. With this level of talent behind the voices you might expect a certain amount of manic extravagance in the performances, yet Carrey, Carell and Burnett all come across as remarkably restrained. The script has a few quotable one-liners and plenty of reckless slapstick, like paper staples in the head and a shot of Novocain administered accidentally to the Mayor's arm, but nothing that gets too ridiculous. (Although the rousing chorus of REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling" at the movie's conclusion might make a few older viewer's eyes roll.)
In 1954 when Seuss wrote his original story extolling the virtues of speaking out for the little guy, he was reportedly influenced by such recent historical tragedies as the bombing of Japan in World War II and the McCarthy hearings. In our own politically fraught times, it's good to be reminded by a simple animated story of a faithful elephant that it continues to be important to teach these lessons of independent thought to our own children.
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino
Cast: Jim Carrey (voice of Horton), Steve Carell (voice of the Mayor of Who-ville), Carol Burnett (voice of Kangaroo), Seth Rogan (voice of Morton), Will Arnet (voice of Vlad), Isla Fischer (voice of Dr. Mary Lou Larue)
Karen Wilson is a freelance writer living in New York City.