The doctor is in
Hollywood finally gives Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) his due with the delightful Horton Hears a Who!, the first big-budget movie that manages to catch the beloved author’s wacky yet somehow spiritual vibe. Presented with imaginative computer animation, these filmmakers had the brains to accept that Seuss belongs in a cartoon world rather than a world with comedians covered in heavy prosthetics.
Jim Carrey, who did his best in the so-so Seuss adaptation How the Grinch Stole Christmas, has some splendid vocal fun as Horton, the big-hearted elephant who swears he can hear voices coming from a floating dust speck. Indeed he does, for the dust speck is actually a planet containing the infamous Whoville. The speck winds up on a piece of clover, and Horton vows to protect it.
While going through his workday in preparation for Whoville’s centennial celebration, the mayor (a hilarious Steve Carell) hears Horton calling to him, and the two become fast friends. Members of Horton’s jungle universe, including Carol Burnett as an annoyed kangaroo, become enraged with the elephant for corrupting the minds of their children with his stories of universes beyond their own. They plot to capture the dust speck and imprison Horton.
Underneath all the cartoon fun is a sweet message about tolerance, open-mindedness, and the possibility that we are not alone. Directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino aren’t afraid to go occasionally insane. At one point, the animation drifts into Pokemon parody, and they actually find a way to incorporate REO Speedwagon into the proceedings. It all adds to the “anything goes” spirit of the film. This is the rare cartoon that will please the kids and adults and leave you with a warm fuzzy and sufficiently amused feeling.
The source material is rather short, but I didn’t feel the movie straining to fill its feature length run time.
Among the best sequences are Horton crossing a long rope bridge a la Indiana Jones, and one where Horton chases Vlad the Vulture (voiced by Will Arnett) as he flies away with the speck world. The chase includes a large elephant climbing a sheer cliff, which is almost rendered believable by the animation staff.
Carrey, stripped of his physical attributes, delivers a soft, sweet, only sporadically crazy performance as Horton. He gets the chance to riff a bit, including a nice Henry Kissinger impression but, for the most part, he stays within the confines of his gentle character. Carell is perfect as the mayor, able to go from calm to panicky with the push of a button.
Other voices you’ll hear include Amy Poehler as the mayor’s wife, Isla Fisher as a cynical doctor and Judd Apatow factory workers Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen as two of Horton’s jungle friends. Rogen is especially good as a little blue mouse with a brain bigger than Horton’s.
This film is welcome relief for Seuss fans after the disaster that was The Cat In the Hat. That project sounded like a loser from the start, and what eventually hit the screen was a disgrace to good bedtime stories throughout the ages. Mike Myers looked nightmarish in his outfit. Carrey looked nightmarish in The Grinch, as well, but he was supposed to be a little scary.
One wonders what Seuss work will be conquered next. I’m curious to see if they could stretch Green Eggs and Ham into a feature-length vehicle. One thing’s for sure: This film is proof that paintbrushes, be they digital or wooden, are more suitable for Dr. Seuss than live action.