In 1953, a doctor named Seuss wrote a book,
It is really quite good, you should have a look.
There have been many films made, in the decades since,
Based on the doctor's other works, most would make you wince.
Turns out, all it needed was some fine work by comedic actors,
And a lot of great, colorful CGI animation to bring the doctors
Work to life.
Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey), an elephant who roams the jungle of Nool, is a mentor-teacher to the younger animals and a bit wacky in his own right. One morning, while bathing, he hears a tiny voice and realizes it is coming from a tiny speck floating by his ears. He saves the speck and allows it to land on a flower. But Horton is the only one who can hear the tiny voice and Kangaroo (voiced by Carol Burnett) wants to prove decisively Horton has made a mistake; as the leader of the jungle, she must be right and more importantly, prove to everyone else she is right, including her son, Rudy (Josh Flitter). But Horton heard something and soon begins to communicate with the Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) who has 96 daughters and a young son named JoJo with his wife, Sally (Amy Poehler). Things are always good in Whoville, so when the Mayor begins to communicate with the voice from the sky, he begins to realize they may have some trouble on their hands. But no one in Whoville will listen. Kangaroo asks Vlad (voiced by Will Arnett) to help her stop Horton and maintain the status quo. Horton decides the only answer is to take the small speck to a safe cave on the top of Mount Nool. But there are more than a few obstacles along the way.
Co-directed by Jimmy Hayward (who comes from Pixar and "Robots") and Steve Martino (who also worked on "Robots"), the use of CGI seems to be the perfect medium to bring Seuss to life. Think about it. All of Seuss' drawings have roundness to them even though they are primarily pen and ink drawings, everything is always moving and bent, and CGI lends itself beautifully to this. The same film, done in traditional two-dimensional animation would be a very different beast. It might more faithfully capture the look of Seuss, but the ability of CGI to capture lifelike details helps to make these characters come to life.
Given the status of the original material, it is a classic of children's literature and many generations have and will continue to grow up reading the work of Dr. Seuss, it is important for the filmmakers to stay true to the spirit of the original. I was initially concerned about the lack of "Seuss" I heard in the trailer but was pleasantly surprised to find they retained most of this for the narration, which is voiced by Charles Osgood. Naturally, when you take an illustrated book which is probably forty pages long, it becomes necessary to extrapolate and add to the source. When the characters speak, they speak in more normal, human patterns, leaving the Seuss-isms for the narrator. Normally, this is exactly the type of thing that would set me off and begin pulling apart the story, the performances, and the animation. But in "Horton Hears a Who" it works. Carrey and Carell, and the rest of the voice cast play it pretty natural, allowing the dialogue to speak for itself.
This doesn't mean that Jim Carrey doesn't do a little bit of 'ad lib'. Much like Robin William's Genie in "Aladdin", Horton is a 'free spirit' and ends up talking to himself. As he walks through the jungle of Nool, it doesn't take a lot to set the large, kind elephant off on a tangent, playing different characters, talking to invisible animals. Carrey does a very nice job with the character, adding some of his trademark, fast-paced humor while retaining the innocence of a character created for a children's book. Carrey's Horton imagines friends and places that aren't there while playing and interacting with the creatures that actually exist. Horton is a fun loving guy and a joy to watch.
Steve Carell plays the Mayor of Whoville. With a huge family of 97 children, one of which is his son, he has a lot to look after. But Whoville is a magical place where nothing ever goes wrong, so he doesn't have a lot to worry about as Mayor of the strange little town. Carell brings his trademark energy to the role, making the Mayor a bit scattered, but in a playful, enjoyable way. He seems as though he would not have it any other way.
Because the people of Whoville live without problems, the Mayor finds it difficult to convince them when he begins to realize something is wrong. When the weather begins to change erratically and there seem to be intermittent earthquakes, the Mayor soon realizes something is wrong. Then, he begins to hear a voice. Horton is communicating with him and it takes a little bit of convincing for both of them to accept they are talking to others; the Mayor can't believe he is talking to someone outside of his world, Horton can't believe he is talking to a living being on a speck sitting on top of a flower. But they each come to believe the other and set out to work together.
"Horton Hears a Who" seems designed to be a parable for the problems in the world, and since it was written in 1953, I can only imagine what Seuss might write today. The legend is he wrote "Horton" shortly after a visit to the recently bombed Japan and modeled Whoville after some of the cities he visited. Perhaps the most famous line, "a persons a person no matter how small", is retained in the film and used a couple of times. The message of this sentiment is pretty clear and resonates even louder when you consider the inspiration for this book.
"Horton Hears a Who" is the first modern adaptation of a Dr. Seuss classic that gets it right. Forget the abysmal live action versions of "The Grinch" (which also starred Carrey, but under a lot of latex and make-up) and "The Cat in the Hat" starring Mike Meyers. This is the first film capturing the spirit, the tone, the look and the feel of the classic children's book. It is the first film to rightfully carry the moniker "Dr. Seuss".