Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!
Ironically, for a film released by the Murdoch-owned Twentieth Century Fox (an affiliate of Fox News), Horton Hears a Who! arrives on screen with its message of tolerance intact. I found it utterly charming, a breath of fresh air compared to the frenetic DreamWorks productions and overly focus-tested Pixar pieces. Ultimately, Horton works so well because it retains the original book at its core (although, obviously, expanding it considerably to reach feature length).
That may be a move certain to incur the wrath of aficionados of Theodor Geisel’s books but, while I admit to having been mostly deprived of Dr. Seuss as a child, this appears to bear much more fidelity to its creator’s core ideas than the sucrose-overdose horror show that was Ron Howard’s The Grinch. The screenplay, from Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, keeps Geisel’s verse as a framing device, which lends the story a relaxed rhythm, even when there are frenetic set pieces, and so helps to distinguish it from its animated peers.
And, despite the stunt voice casting of Jim Carrey (whose Grinch duties rightly invite concern), Steve Carrell and assorted comedians, their presence never distracts (Seth Rogen is heard mercifully briefly, while Will Arnett’s Vlad the vulture is hilarious highlight). Directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino (the former would come unstuck with live action Jonah Hex, the latter rode high on the titan that was Ice Age 4 last summer) ensure the designs are warm and clear, and evocative of the books.
Just as importantly, they resist cluttering up the frame and let the focus remain on the interaction between the macro-world of Horton the Elephant (Carrey) and the micro-world of the Mayor of Whoville (Carrell). It’s such a striking idea in itself, and so evocative, that all concerned wisely sit back and let it tell itself. There’s little in the way of pop culture referencing to take up slack and only one additional plot thread falls flat (the relationship between the Mayor and his son; he also has 90+ daughters, but they are irrelevant it seems).
It appears that the theme of the tale has been interpreted in different ways by advocates of various viewpoints. Most notably, anti-abortionists appropriated the “A person’s a person, no matter how small”. Some have suggested the story is pro-faith (although Horton’s belief in Whoville is ultimately tangibly proved to all) and yet others have claimed it as anti-religious (anyone with a different view is caged and “burnt at the stake”). The film version is definitely engaged with promoting imagination (the Sour Kangaroo considers Horton such a threat because he is inspiring the children to think creatively) but its central message appears consistent with the original. And this is a general, message rather than one requiring application to a specific group; tolerance is good, unthinking conformity is bad; and keep your eyes and ears open to the world.