With two live-action adaptations -- one grotesque (THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS), the other just plain gross (THE CAT IN THE HAT) -- to serve as a warning, the wise people at Blue Sky Studios (ICE AGE, ROBOTS) ditched the idea of trying to recreate Dr. Seuss' beloved characters with actors and instead fully animated this 50-year-old tale of a faithful, sharp-eared elephant who saves the microscopic world that only he can hear.
Deep in the jungle of Nool lives Horton (voice of Jim Carrey, who somehow manages to be overly animated even in an animated film), a sweet, imaginative gray elephant with ears big enough to hear the small squeak emanating from a tiny speck of fluff that blows past him one lazy afternoon. Although he can't see anything, Horton considers the possibility that there might actually be a tiny person somewhere on that miniscule mote -- possibly even a whole tiny family -- so he plucks the clover and swears to the tiny voice that he'll keep it safe, no matter what it takes. In fact, there's more than just a family of infinitesimally small critters living on that bit of fluff: There's a whole civilization of little "Whos" who have no idea their entire world is nothing but a vulnerable crumb perched on a flower in a much larger universe. They refuse even to entertain such an absurd idea, with the sole exception of the open-minded mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) -- the Who whom Horton heard and who now communicates with the great elephant in the sky through a drainpipe. He believes what Horton tells him and knows his world is in danger, but the rest of the Whoville writes him off as an insane boob. Meanwhile, Horton's world has its doubters as well, namely sourpuss Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), a stern and unimaginative marsupial so intolerant she "pouch-schools" her son and refuses to acknowledge the possibility of anything she can't see, smell or feel. Kangaroo considers Horton's belief in the Whos a "threat to our way of life" and a danger to "our children," and demands the destruction of the speck that has captured the imaginations of the jungle's youth. But Horton has made a promise to the mayor, and an elephant is faithful 100 percent. And so with the clover firmly clutched in his trunk, he sets out for the safety of a faraway cave high upon the mountains of Nool. After all, a person's a person no matter how small, and Horton believes everyone has an equal right to exist.
To suggest that Horton Hears a Who! is a profound political parable isn't as silly as it sounds. A longtime opponent of prejudice and a tireless champion of civil liberties and equal rights, Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel) was an outspoken political cartoonist before he wrote children's books: Horton first appeared as the GOP elephant in an angry cartoon condemning the Republican Party for pushing U.S. isolationism in the face of the Nazi threat, and Yertle the Turtle originally sported a Hitler mustache. Seuss' greatest fables -- The Sneetches, The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book -- are all ingenious allegories. Thankfully, this colorful adaptation has filled out Horton's original adventure without losing sight of its simple but important message. It's rendered in shiny, state-of-the-art CG animation, not the charming pen-and-ink drawings with which Seuss illustrated his own books or the hand-drawn artistry Chuck Jones brought to the 1970 Horton Hears a Who! short. But considering the messes that came before, that's a minor quibble. leave a comment --Ken Fox