Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!
Directed by Steve Martino, Jimmy Hayward. Narrated by Charles Osgood. Voices by Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Isla Fisher, Dan Fogler, Amy Poehler, Jaime Pressly. (2008, G, 88 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 14, 2008
It would be pretty hard to muck up this Dr. Seuss story and its kid-friendly parable about the rights of all beings, no matter their size or shape, to the basic freedoms of life and liberty. It's perfect for the little ones, who might feel pushed around by siblings, bullies, and various elders and are sure to identify with all the wee beings whose innate desires are crushed by those larger (and, therefore, more powerful) than they. "A person's a person, no matter how small," retorts Horton the animated elephant (voiced by Carrey) when he's mocked by his jungle cohorts for his protection of the entire town of Whoville, a tiny speck of a world that resides on the head of a single stalk of clover. Horton becomes the laughing stock of the jungle for claiming to hear little voices that no one else hears and for believing there is microscopic life that we can't see. No less an object of ridicule is the Mayor of Who-ville (voiced by Carell), whom the Whos call a boob for his complicity with the unseen Horton to save their community. For my money, I've never seen anything much wrong with the animated Chuck Jones version of this Seuss tale, made for TV in 1970. But everything needs an update, I suppose, and this new animated feature does the job nicely, staying true to the playfulness of the Seussian rhymes and messages while ably adding in new bits of business to expand Seuss' verse to feature length. Carrey's general tendency toward comic mania is gently toned down, allowing the rubbery elephant to seem more a lovable goofball than a frenzied nut job. Carell's readings as the Mayor are perfectly on target, although Burnett's interpretation of the disapproving kangaroo mom lacks real distinction. Twentieth Century Fox's animation is in the mold of their previous films Ice Age and Robots: a nice blend of rudimentary and inventive touches. And as long as the right-to-life movement doesn't again try to usurp the phrase, "A person's a person no matter how small" (Seuss, aka Theodore Geissel, once sued to stop them from using it), this new Horton Hears a Who! should enjoy a long life.