Dr. Seuss’ books are beloved by so many people, it’s rather risky to adapt them to movies. On the other hand, if you do it well, the payoff is huge.
I’m happy to say, "Horton Hears a Who" reflects the spirit of the book and of The Seuss himself, and it’s what a G-rated movie ought to be: imaginative, funny and safe.
One day, Horton (Jim Carrey) hears a voice coming from a speck floating through the air. This is all the evidence the faithful elephant needs to believe that there are tiny people living on the speck. From that moment on, his mission is to protect life on the speck.
That’s a good thing, because the speck is home to the Whos of Whoville. Horton soon begins to talk to the mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell), and together they must find a safe place for the speck before Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) has it destroyed.
In the midst of all this, the mayor struggles to communicate with his mute, forlorn son, JoJo (Jesse McCartney), and with his own shortcomings as leader of Whoville.
There’s nothing exactly new here, but it’s all told with an infectious positivity. In a way, "Horton" takes a counter-strategy to the one taken by Pixar. As much as I enjoyed "Ratatouille" and other Pixar movies, they are usually made more for parents than children. The opposite is the case here. Adults will find "Horton" pleasant enough, but it’s a genuine kids movie.
The voice talent is, thankfully, restrained. A movie with Carrey, Carell, Seth Rogen and Amy Poehler could have been over the top to say the least. But everyone plays to the role rather than going for adult laughs. (In fact, it’s almost strange to hear Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Jaime Pressly not swearing, but they all behave themselves.)
"Horton" won’t dethrone the animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" or "The Lorax" for best Seuss adaptation honors, but it is a respectable entry on that particular list.
This movie also marked a special occasion for me. My wife and I took our 3-year-old son to the cinema for the first time. For a film geek, that’s akin to a first baseball mitt. And since he represents the target audience better than I, I’d like to finish by asking his opinions on the movie.
Jeff: So, son, what did you think of the movie?
Son: JoJo has dark hair.
Jeff: Was there anything you didn’t like?
Son: It was loud!
Jeff: What was your favorite part of the movie?
Son: Mama liked the mouse.
Jeff: But did you like it overall?
Son: Horton is an elephant!
Jeff: So how would you sum up the film for our readers?
Son: Frothy fun for the whole family!
Jeff: What could have been better about the movie?
Son: I felt the filmmakers didn’t fully maximize the possibilities of the soundtrack, the color palette was a tad limited, the anime sequence seemed out of place, and they really didn’t explore the full depth of the father-son relationship between the Mayor and JoJo.
I’m so proud. (Wiping away a tear)
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.