Dirs. Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino. US. 2008. 88mins
Before he ever heard a Who, Dr Seuss's idiosyncratic elephant Horton hatched an egg. While pundits have been predicting that this all-animated Blue Sky Studios adaptation would be it, they're wrong.
Everyone loves the Dr Seuss books, but they've been a creativedisasters cinematically - although How TheGrinchStole Christmas's $345m tally is a disaster many could live with. By focussing on children (as opposed to everyone), the makers of Horton Hears A Who! seem to have largely solved the problem. Although it still bears unavoidable stretch marks from pummelling a nursery rhyme into 88 minutes of screen time, overall, Horton is refreshingly innocent and should rescue Dr Seuss from the bargain rental bin where The Cat In The Hat and How The GrinchStole Christmas have languished.
Horton (previously made for TV by Chuck Jones in the 70s) will mostly attract the under-eights. This may seem a restrictive demographic, but parents should warm to this adaptation which appeals to grown-ups as opposed to pandering to them. The animation is nothing short of exquisite, as is perhaps tobe expected from the makers ofthe Ice Age films,bringing Whoville to life in a most unexpected way. And an added bonus is that Horton himself is less of an irritating wise-ass than casting Jim Carrey as his voice, with all the Grinch memories that entails, might lead one to expect (in fact, the all-star voice cast seems a bit redundant here).
On the downside, although the adult-oriented wisecracks are thankfully thinner on the ground than usual, they're not terribly good either ('I love the smell of bananas in the morning,' being one of the worst). The elephant could have an added challenge internationally in that he's less well-known than the cat (and historically, Dr Seuss has only taken less than a quarter of its toll from international markets). All this could spell a better performance on DVD than theatrically over the long haul internationally.
Like all of Dr Seuss's work, Horton Hears A Who! is deceptively simple, with the repeated message 'a person's a person, no matter how small' (which the pro-life movement tried unsuccessfully to co-opt at one point). With his big, floppy ears, Horton the elephant is the only one who can hear the tiny inhabitants of Whoville, who live on a speck of dust. And when the jungle animals, led by an intolerant kangaroo (Burnett), threaten to boil the speck in beezlenut oil, the Whos must shout out for their very lives - because every voice counts.
It takes 10 minutes to read Horton Hears A Who! out loud. To make the running length here, writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio have to place Horton and the speck in and out of constant peril, which can often feel like what it is: filling time. Much more successful are devices such as screen splits, a manga interlude, inventive sequences such as the monkeys firing bananas from their armpits like machine guns, and the whole richly-imagined Whoville.
New sidekicks/villains are called for, and enter Horton's best friend Morton (Seth Rogen) and a comically villainous bald eagle called Vlad (Arnett) to the picture, although it's always a relief when the traditional, Dr Seuss-style voiceover from Charles Osgood kicks back in. A more successful add-on is the Mayor of Whoville's (Carrel) alienated son Jojo (McCartney); while he originally seems too current, ultimately, he works.
20th Century Fox Animation
Blue Sky Studios
20th Century Fox
Ken Daurio, based on the story by Dr Seuss
Main voice cast