Horton Hears a Who (2008)
Memory is a funny thing. When you get to a certain age it is difficult to recall what you had for dinner last week but snipes from your childhood are retained as clear as a bell. One of those cherished memories for me was from a little cartoon. It was a line of dialogue uttered by an elephant; ‘I meant what I said and I said what I meant; an elephant's faithful, 100 percent’. The character speaking this line was Horton the faithful elephant. At that time was really hadn’t heard of Dr Seuss but I loved that cartoon. Now, after about fifty years I was reintroduced to the patient pachyderm. This took the form on an animated movie ‘Horton Hears a Who’. This is a delightful little movie that is fun and engaging for the entire family. It is not up to the current standards set by Pixar but then again they are so far beyond the normal curve no film of this sort can hope to compete in a head to head challenge. This film is very well done though and it will remind those out there who remember those old cartoons of the time we first became fans of Dr. Seuss. It has an easy going and light hearted style that contains a message of tolerance and understanding. This is the heart of what has made Dr. Seuss a delight generation after generation. Animation has certainly made stellar advances over the last few decades. We grew up with the old hand crafted Disney movies and now with the help of computer hardware and software the imagination is the limit and cartoons just doesn’t seem to be a realistic description any longer. This is an example of an honest effort that has a few flaws but works on the sheer entertainment value it provides. The budget for this was a reported $85 million which seems like an awful lot for animation. They did a lot with the money getting some of the best voices in the industry to become the characters. It also had the advantage of a March release which enabled kids on break from school to see and enjoy it. The film more than made back its cost which hopefully demonstrated to the studios that there is a need for a movie like this. Now you can have it to enjoy anytime you want on DVD or Blu-ray. Just as a side note Horton has received the ultimate honor for an animated character. As of 2008 he has been added as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Charged with the responsibility of bringing a beloved classic from Dr. Seuss to life on the big screen were writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. They have been teamed up for years as scriptwriters. Okay, they wrote the script for the lamentable ‘Bubble Boy’ but that was their first effort. They have gone on to family friendly stories including ‘The Santa Clause 2’. The script they came up with here will help to revive Dr. Seuss themed movies after the ‘Cat in the Hat’ almost ruined it for many fans. They are fairly faithful to the original children’s book. Usually when turning a book into a screenplay the biggest hurdle is what to cut to make the story fit in a film. Here these men faced the opposite dilemma. Children’s books are by design short. Daurio and Cinco had to expand on certain themes and scenes in order to fill up the time. The problem is doing that while retaining the heart and wonder of the original. They have accomplished this better than I could have imagined. There are some references to other Seuss works and more than enough pop culture jokes to keep a smile on the faces of the grown ups. The core of the story is one of Dr. Seuss’ best characters; Horton the elephant (voiced by Jim Carrey). He is one of the gentlest and mot admirable characters in the history of children’s fiction. Horton is, as mentioned, 100% faithful and when he gives his word, no matter how lightly, he does everything and anything to keep it. He also doesn’t have a mean bone in his large body. He is kind, loving and generous. When you get tired of letting your kids watch less than stellar role models give them a character that you would love for them to emulate. This is what the story but these men brought to the movie; the essence of Horton.
There was another team directing this film; Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino. This is the first time directing for both. Hayward has worked in the art department in Pixar on such notable films as ‘Toy Story’, ‘Toy Story 2’, Monsters Inc.’ and ‘Finding Nemo’. Martino has worked on a video game about Monty Python prior to this. Together they do very well directing a movie that has to be completely made in the imagination. This is a tough genre to work and it is admirable that they chose this for their freshman opus. The directors pace the film very well. It gets into things quickly after establishing Horton and keeps moving from there. They also have a nice way of polarizing the heroes and villains. This is done in an age appropriate fashion. Somehow they were able to reign in the trademark over exuberance of Jim Cary allowing him to give a fine performance that rarely went over the top.
Norton teaches nature to the youth of Nool set in the middle of a quiet jungle. One day a speck of dust lands in his ear and Norton hears people talking. Being very friendly and inquisitive he wants to find out who is speaking. It turns out that on that mote of dust there is an entire planet with a town called Whoville. In it live the peaceful little Whos. To protect them he places the speck carefully on a flower. The town is lead by its mayor, Ned McDodd (voiced by Steve Carell). He lives there with his wife Sally (voiced by Amy Poehler) and their 96 daughters (voiced by Selena Gomez). There is also a single son, JoJo (Jesse McCartney) who will someday inherit his father’s office. A scientific Who is consulted and if something happens to the speck all of Whoville will be destroyed. Horton vows to keep them safe. Unfortunately his community is not very helpful. The Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), does not believe in anything that she can not see with her own lives and refuses to believe Horton. She tries everything to get him to give up the speck. Horton is forces to leave on a journey to find a safe place to leave the speck. Kangaroo is very upset with this decision and sends a mob out to get rid of the piece of dust.
Fox does a great job in the DVD and Blu-ray presentation of this film. The colors are vibrant and alive; the audio crisp and clear. There are also a better than usual set of extras to keep everyone entertained long after the movie is over. This is one to get and watch as a family.