Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!
At least it doesn’t have Jim Carrey in gray makeup and big, rubber ears
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!
Directed by Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino
Cast: Voices of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett
Now that we’re all safely outside the biohazard zone created by 2000’s Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and 2003’s Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, I think we can all agree that live-action versions of Dr. Seuss books are just wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s of some comfort, then, that the 2008 feature film translation of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! arrives in animated form. It’s computer-animated, mind you, but at least it’s a cartoon, sparing us the horror of seeing Mike Myers covered in white spackle and black fur and prancing around leftover sets from Edward Scissorhands.
As is par for the course for these types of films, the voicecast is crammed full of hot-name comics. Voicing animals, Whos and assorted whatsits in this go-around are Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, Amy Poehler and Jamie Pressly. At the center of it all, though, is Jim Carrey. Despite the star power he theoretically brings to a project, he’s a poor choice for the title role of Seuss’ timid, paranoid, overly persecuted elephant, Horton. As you’d expect, Carrey tries too hard, unleashing a Tourette’s-worthy torrent of Robin Williams-esque jokes, wacky voices and semi-topical references. (A Henry Kissinger imitation? Really, Jim?)
The film starts out promisingly, with a soothing narration by Charles Osgood (now that’s good voicecasting). Soon, we’re introduced to our hero, Horton, a selfless pachyderm who hears a plaintive cry for help one day from a tiny speck of dust. Turns out that microscopic speck of dust is home to the hundreds of Whos living down in Whoville. Horton pleads with his fellow jungle dwellers to help protect the tiny speck, but no one seems to believe him.
Horton Hears a Who! has always been Seuss’ most moralistic tale, and the environmental message still rings true. Over the years, the story has taken on a few other connotations, and screenwriters Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul (Bubble Boy, Santa Clause 2) do a smooth enough job folding in modern-day concerns. While Horton battles an ultraconservative, rabble-rousing kangaroo (Burnett), the harried Mayor of Whoville (Carell) tries to convince the stuffy “go about your business” city council that their world is nothing more than a speck of dust in danger of imminent destruction. Religious fundamentalism and oblivious homeland security are the two not-so-subtle targets here.
The CGI animation looks appropriately Seussian, and there are an abundance of amusing gags, both vocal and visual, strung throughout. Like any slim kids’ picture book inflated to fill 88 minutes of screentime, though, there’s plenty of stretching going on. The result is a clever central narrative padded with a bunch of throwaway sequences (a slapstick trip to the dentist for the mayor, an anime-inspired spoof of “Naruto”/“Pokémon”/“Yu-Gi-Oh!” for Horton and a ’60s pop song sing-along stolen straight from There’s Something About Mary/The 40-Year-Old Virgin/The Game Plan for the entire cast).
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! does approach its source material with something resembling reverence. The story still holds up and is in some ways even more relevant today than when it was written. A story that good doesn’t need to be jazzed up with 3-D computer animation, wacky pop cultural references and the cast of the last couple Judd Apatow movies.