Walking into Horton Hears a Who!, I was game for a nice and fluffy time-filler. In all honesty, I did not expect, however, to come away from it thinking that this was the first great movie I’ve seen thus far in 2008. Throughout its blissful, rapturous 86 minutes, Horton Hears a Who! is exactly what a family film should be: smart, funny, imaginative, fulsome, and it conveys its well-intentioned message to perfection. It will entertain audiences of ALL ages; but what makes it great though, is what it can offer any intellectual viewer. One would very well be within their rights to call this a future family classic.
I remember watching National Lampoon’s Animal House for the first time a few years back and recalling the scene with Donald Sutherland’s Professor Jennings and Tom Hulce’s Pinto high as kites, discussing the possibility that a tiny atom in our fingernails could be a tiny universe and our universe itself could be a tiny atom in the fingernail of a larger being. After I was able to catch my breath from laughing so hard, I remember thinking: “That would be an awesome idea for a movie!” Well, its been three decades since “Animal House” was made, but by way of Dr. Seuss, such a film has made its way to theaters.
The movie opens with a sequence featuring a speck of dust separating from the flower it has been attached to. Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey), an amicable elephant who loves the jungle he lives in and all matter of life within it, hears a faint cry from the speck that is floating about the air. Horton discovers that the speck of dust is actually a tiny world called Whoville. Through a series of pipes that channel his voice, Horton is able to make contact with the Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell), who is married with 96 daughters and one son named JoJo. The Mayor is reluctant at the idea that his world is a tiny speck floating about a larger one, but strange events occur to convince the mayor that he isn’t losing his mind: tremors, unusual seasonal weather changes, etc. Back in the jungle, Horton is being scorned by the stern and haughty Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) and his peers for believing that life exists on the speck and that he is poisoning the minds of the children. Horton must find a stable, undisturbed resting place for the contentious world of Whoville to lie on before things get too out of hand with the jungle denizens.
One of the most surprising things about this little gem is how many laughs it elicits. Not since The Simpsons Movie have I seen so many well-timed jokes that pack just the right punch. There is a small sequence that mocks the Dragon Ball Z type anime cartoons that had me laughing hysterically. Another great comedic piece is the Mayor’s 96 daughters he has to deal with each day. The voice-over cast is fraught with well-known comedic talent. Jim Carrey and Steve Carell are perfect fits for their respective characters. The supporting team includes Burnett, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Dan Fogler, Jonah Hill, Isla Fisher, and Amy Poehler. Most memorable is Will Arnett as a conniving, diabolical vulture.
The screenplay, adapted by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul and helmed by first timers Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, is acerbic, witty, and even touching. The relationship, or lack thereof, between the Mayor and his son, JoJo, is an unexpected turn away from comedy that really pays off, especially with the way it works itself into the story’s resolution. That resolution itself is surprisingly rewarding. But what really blew me away was the theme of people, or in this case animals, wanting to destroy what they can’t or don’t want to understand because it may just revolutionize the society they know and love. Horton Hears a Who is sometimes so smart that it has to be seen to be believed.
The animation here is spectacular. The folks over at Blue Sky have done a real crackerjack job and haven’t released something this entertaining since 2002’s Ice Age. The palette created by the animation team perfectly captures the world of Dr. Suess. The books themselves require a little imagination from the reader, but the movie will have viewers spellbound. Of course the challenge is painting two worlds: the jungle and Whoville; so extra credit is due to these artist who so wonderfully bring both to life.
If there is a problem with Horton Hears a Who! it’s that the very end of the ending is a little silly. Other than that, the film is a real joy. Thus, the third time proves to be the charm for the Dr. Seuss film adaptations so far. 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas was okay at best and 2003’s The Cat in the Hat was a shoddy disaster, but Horton Hears a Who! shows that a successful transition to the big-screen can be made and perhaps animation is the way to do it from now on.
Horton Hears a Who is directed by Jimmy Hayward and produced by Blue Sky Studios for 20th Century Fox. It features the voices of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Dan Fogler, Isla Fisher, Amy Poehler, Jonah Hill and Josh Flitter. It is rated G. It hits theaters today, March 14th.