Thursday, April 3, 2008

Horton Hears a Who!

Blue Sky's latest venture has proven to be one of their best ones. It's not perfect, but it is by far the best feature adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book. That doesn't say much when considering the abysmal Ron Howard Grinch adaptation, or the even worse Cat in the Hat with Mike Meyers. Despite the obvious challenges of taking a children's, rhyming, picture book into a feature length film, they manage to keep it entertaining the whole time, without losing sight of the book.

For those of you who never a child-hood, the classic story is as follows: Horton, the good natured Elephant discovers a tiny civilization on the head of a flower that only he can hear (on account of his massive ears). The head of the jungle decides to destroy the flower in an effort to prevent unrest and independent mindedness. Horton then has to struggle to save the denizens (The Whos) of the tiny world (Whoville) and convince the others that they actually exist.

The story is cute, but very simple. It's tough to stretch that into an hour and a half. Instead of falling into the repetitive trap of the previous attempts, they built much more into the characters. Much more background was prescribed to the residents of Whoville, including the mayor and his son. It even gives background on the history of the town itself.

The cast helped make this movie so good. Jim Carey (alum from The Grinch) plays the relatively subdued Horton. Steve Carrel lends his voice to the more outlandish Mayor, and the rest of the cast is filled out by Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Islah Fisher, and Jesse McCartney. Try naming all of those stars in one breath.

True to any Dr. Seuss book, this is filled with deep messages. There are undertones promoting free-thinking. The anti-communist message is pretty clear considering the book was written in 1954. On top of this there are some fairly obvious religious messages. Horton's argument that just because you can't see something, it doesn't mean it's no there, has been a pro-religion argument for years. None of these themes are veiled at all, so there is potential for some rather heavy and controversial texts. On the surface, though, it's still just fun.

The only part I didn't like was a few scenes done in a 2D anime style. These were done to show the mentality of Horton, acting like a ninja to save the Whos. The style didn't bother me, but the whole concept kind of did. Everything stayed very true to Dr. Seuss except for those parts. They were so far removed from the source material, that they took me out of the movie.

The movie includes some very cute observations about Dr. Seuss's style. The movie is peppered with his lyrical texts in just the appropriate places. It also includes self-aware gems like "Just because you put 'who' in front of it, it doesn't make it good!" Fun little lines like this make the movie immensely enjoyable. I'd watch it again.


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