Review: Horton Hears a Who!
Plot: Based on Dr. Seuss' classic children's story, HORTON HEARS A WHO! is the story of Horton the elephant (voiced by Jim Carrey). Horton lives in the jungle, and leads a happy, uncomplicated life until one fateful day when he hears a cry from what seems to be a speck of dust. It turns out that the speck is actually a tiny city called Whoville- home to millions of Who's, who are blissfully unaware that they've been living their whole lives in a world which is actually only a speck of dust in another world. The voice that Horton hears belongs to the Mayor of Whoville (voiced by Steve Carell), who is unable to convince the other Who's of the danger they are in. Realizing that the jungle is too dangerous a place to keep the speck, Horton takes it upon himself to find a safe place to house the speck. Meanwhile, the other inhabitants of the jungle think that Horton has lost his mind, and will stop at nothing to get him to admit that the speck is only that- a speck.
Review: Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodore Geisel) has not been treated well by Hollywood in the last few years. The Ron Howard directed butchering of HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS was bad enough, but as bad as that film was- it was a masterpiece compared to the next Seuss adaptation- THE CAT IN THE HAT. That film was so bad that Seuss's widow, who owns the rights to all of the Seuss books, declared that she would never allow a live action version of one of his books to be made again.
So how does the CGI animated HORTON HEARS A WHO! fare? Sadly not much better than the last two Seuss films. For some reason, the filmmakers decided to fill what could have been a charming family film full of silly pop culture references that seem better suited to a SHREK film than a Dr. Seuss story. Granted- it's been a while since I've read HORTON HEARS A WHO!, but I'm pretty sure the book didn't end with an REO Speedwagon sing-a-long (friggin' REO Speedwagon! Were the rights to the Air Supply catalogue too expensive?).
Granted- the filmmakers (who were also behind the ICE AGE films and ROBOTS) couldn't have really done a straight adaptation as the film would have only been about twenty minutes long. Still- it would have been nice if the film took itself seriously, as the original story actually tackled some pretty heady subject matter. First printed in 1954, the original book was viewed by many as a reaction to the McCarthy "Red Scare" hearings that saw many Americans being stripped of their civil liberties in a frenzy of paranoia which seemed to consume large parts of the country. In a way, Horton the elephant represented the victims of the McCarthy hearings, who stood by their convictions despite the ridicule and threats being lobbied against them. The villain in the story- the Sour Kangaroo (voiced here by Carol Burnett) was a very McCarthy-ish figure in the way she whipped up the other jungle inhabitants into a frenzy of paranoia.
Horton's motto- "a person is a person, no matter how small" had a lot of resonance to many readers, and the book is considered to be one of Dr. Seuss' finest. Sadly- the film does not do it justice. I think one of the big problems with the film is Jim Carrey. I consider myself more or less a fan of his, but his zany antics do not lend themselves well to this story. He basically plays Horton the same way he played the Grinch, meaning that after about 10 minutes of his antics, you're praying for the film to end, Steve Carell, as the mayor of Whoville, fares better. He's way less over the top than Carrey, and his brand of humor actually works quite well in the Dr. Seuss universe. The rest of the voice cast is filled with a lot of big names (Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Jamie Pressley, Will Arnett, etc.) but Carrey so completely dominates as Horton that the rest completely fail to register on any level.
I saw this film at a Saturday morning sneak preview full of screaming children, and I was surprised by the fact that the kids for the most part did not seem all that entertained. If you've ever sat through a SHREK film, or anything made by Pixar in an auditorium full of kids- you'd know that if they're enjoying the film they're practically bouncing off the walls. Here- most of the kids seemed pretty bored. If the film can't impress an auditorium full of kids on a Saturday morning, you can imagine what sitting through the film must be like for an adult. While I have no doubt it'll make a lot of money, I doubt this film will go down as a family classic, and it doesn't hold a candle to the book- which still entertains generations of children more than half a century after it's debut.