'A person's a person no matter how small.' Horton in Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who"
After delivering a mini-lesson on the leaf bug, one that goes horribly awry, to the children of the Jungle of Nool, Horton (voice of Jim Carrey, "Bruce Almighty ") the elephant goes stumbling through his cool pool when a floating speck catches his attention and "Horton Hears a Who."
Jim Carrey returns in his second starring role opposite Seuss' Whos, but this time the folks behind "Ice Age" have the good sense to keep the tale animated. In transporting the beloved book from the two dimensional page to a computer generated three dimensions, directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino maintain the spirit of Seuss visually and their animated vocal cast fleshes out the rest. While the film feels a wee bit padded at 86 minutes, its message of tolerance is wrapped up in a package to please all ages.
After Horton hears that tiny scream, he attempts to communicate with the tiny person he believes made it and finally succeeds, coming through via an elaborate pipe mechanism that feeds straight to the Mayor of Whoville (voice of Steve Carell, "Evan Almighty," TV's "The Office"). With just a little bit of God-like manipulation of the mayor's world, Horton makes a believer of the Mayor, who asks that Horton get their speck to a safe place. Suddenly, as Horton looks at his world through new eyes, he sees danger lurking everywhere. Finally, a cave at the top of a mountain presents itself as the safest place around.
But Horton's transportation task will not be so easy. The self-proclaimed arbiter of Jungle social rules, Kangaroo (voice of Carol Burnett, TV's "The Carol Burnett Show"), believes Horton's hearing things and that his tales of tiny people will - egads - cause the children to use their imaginations! Kangaroo enlists the aid of Vlad (voice of Will Arnett, "Blades of Glory," "Semi-Pro"), an eagle who looks like a vulture, to destroy the speck. Meanwhile,back in Whoville the Mayor, whom the City Councilmen call a boob, is trying to get Whoville to believe *his* story to help them help themselves from being eradicated by making a big noise. A message on global warming is also inherent when Horton's actions cause it to snow in summer.
The visuals may lack some of the ultra wispy curly-cues of the book's illustrations, but they make up for that with textural detail and some delightful sight gags. Horton's ears are particularly expressive, functioning as everything from a bathing cap to a shelter. The Mayor's ninety-six daughters and one son, JoJo, receive their quality time with dad every morning at the conveyor-belt breakfast table and the family history is revealed via paintings that stretch out like a hallway of the Uffizi Gallery. The animators have some real fun visualizing Horton's imagination, which is done in traditional 2-D animation and pays homage to Japanese anime. The color pallet is varied, but subtle, with the 'bad' guys all in shades of purple and JoJo portrayed as an Emo Who, a softer, Tim Burtonesque version of "Family Dog's" obnoxious Billy Binsford.
Not everything works. There's a sight gag that's been done once too often (the unexpected, lightning-quick gulping of one animal by another) and something that sounds like a Carrey ad lib ('I feel the diplomatic process is beginning to break down') is entirely out of character for the simple Horton. More importantly the filmmakers are completely inconsistent displaying the effects of Horton's movements on Whoville. Still, for that inconsistency we are treated to a wonderful sequence that juxtaposes Horton crossing a rope bridge with the Mayor's dentist appointment, a sequence that keeps on raising the ante and Horton's sure-to-bring a smile definition of ASAP.
The vocal cast serve their characters well. Carrey finds the sweetness in Horton while still making him sound large and while there is no mistaking Steve Carell behind his Mayor he gets us to buy into it. Seth Rogen ("Knocked Up"), who just voiced Hogsqueal in "The Spiderwick Chronicles," does well by Horton's antsy mouse friend Morton and Joey King adds comic top notes as Katie, the cutest of the jungle kids. Isla Fisher ("Wedding Crashers," "Definitely, Maybe") proves very adept at cartoon vocalization with her lisping intellectual, Dr. Mary Lou Larue while Amy Poehler ("Blades of Glory") goes for broad practicality as the Mayor's wife Sally. News anchor Charles Osgood lends an air of gravity as the story's narrator.
After the misfires of the live action "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "The Cat in the Hat," Blue Sky's Animation Studios have finally found a formula for big screen Seuss that works. There's room for more.
Robin did not see this film.
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