Horton Hears a Who!
Director(s): Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino
Writer(s): Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Mar 14, 2008 - Wide
It was a beloved children’s book in 1954, a TV special in 1970 and now, in 2008, Horton Hears a Who! takes its bow on the big screen thanks to 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age).
Dr. Seuss’ story follows Horton (voice of Jim Carrey), an elephant who acts as the Jungle of Nool’s teacher. While taking a dip in the water, a tiny speck of dust floats by him and he thinks he hears voices. He carefully places the speck on a clover and soon realizes that the speck of dust is home to Whoville, a microscopic city run by the Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) who pleads with Horton to help him find a safe place for the dust speck to avoid the destruction of his city. Horton is convinced that the best place for the dust speck is atop Mt. Nool and begins to head there to save his new-found friends. Of course not everyone is accepting of the communication. Horton’s mouse friend Morton (Seth Rogen) doesn’t really believe his friend’s story, while even the Mayor of Whoville has trouble convincing his wife Sally (Amy Poehler), mother to his 96 daughters and one moody son JoJo (Jesse McCartney), that their world is just a speck of dust assisted by an elephant.
Seeing Horton talking to the speck, a nosy social-climbing kangaroo named Jane (Carol Burnett) decides that something is wrong with Horton. She thinks he’s become a bad influence on the children and gets a nasty vulture named Vlad Vladikoff (Will Arnett) to try and get the speck away from him. Will Jane and Vlad succeed? Will Horton make it to the top of Mt. Nool?
Originally written by Theodor Seuss Geisel as an allegory about the American post-war occupation of Japan, the story also explores how we treat those who act or think differently, societal expectations, the power of belief, the power of communities when they work together, and the power of change in the acts of just one person, summed up in the line “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” It’s the latter line that has sometimes being seized upon by pro-life groups over the years, much to the dismay of Giesel and his widow who didn’t want his words being used out of context. This is not to say that Giesel was above religious messages. After all, the scorn of Jane the kangaroo is partly over not believing in things she can’t see while Horton and the Mayor’s relationship is one of faith. Inside this CGI world of colour and laughs are some themes that many parents might not be used to exploring in a popcorn-strewn environment. Still, even an agnostic such as myself can find inspiration in the story’s messages of community and the power of the individuals.
The energy of Jim Carrey in this role, like Robin Williams in Aladdin, is perfect for the tough adventure that Horton faces, while the world-weariness that Steve Carell is able to portray as Ned McDodd, the Mayor of Whoville is perfect for a man who has 97 children, one bathroom and a bureaucracy that doesn’t believe their world is in danger. Seth Rogen hits just the right notes as Horton’s doubting but faithful friend, while Carol Burnett’s perfect haughtiness reminds me of how much I miss seeing her on weekly television.
The film is a pleasure for the eyes as well. Children will laugh and learn a thing or two while the adults accompanying them will be entertained by the sufficient number of pop culture references and might learn a thing or two about people and community. A real treat.