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Movie Review: Horton Hears a Who

My wife thought Jake was still too young to go see his first movie at a theater. He'd get restless. He'd cry too loudly. How would others be able to enjoy their time at the theaters while this "terrible two"-er ran around wreaking havoc? Not to mention, what kind of enjoyment could we derive from it if we're too busy changing diapers, or shushing him to enjoy the movie? I was determined to introduce him to one. I wanted to start our father-son bonding over my love of films soon, but it would have to be the perfect one. One both of us could enjoy. Based on the Dr. Seuss book of the same name, Horton Hears a Who seemed to fit the bill.

The fourth computer-animated film from 20th Century Fox's Blue Sky Studios, Horton Hears a Who tells the story of Horton the Elephant who discovers that the world of Whoville resides on a tiny speck of dust floating by him in the jungle of Nool. The speck was accidentally blown away from its original home, and the Mayor of Whoville enlists Horton's help in finding a new home for the speck before all the jostling it's receiving destroys Whoville. Kangaroo, another Nool resident, tries to stop Horton from his seemingly quixotic journey, worried that he will influence the other jungle dwellers to believe in non-existent things.

Jim Carrey as Horton, Steve Carell as the Mayor of Whoville, and Carol Burnett as the mean Kangaroo, are among the well-known voice cast. They do a fantastic job of telling the story at a level that a child can understand while their parents enjoy the humor in it. One of my qualms about the film was the casting of Carrey and to a lesser extent, Carell. While each of these actors are popular and extremely talented and funny, I have found that if they do not have a strong director shaping their performance, left to their own devices they can really ham it up. Recall Carrey as the Grinch in his previous Seuss outing. His characterization of the evil Grinch got old really fast. Happily, I can say that the obvious constraints of animation, one being the fact that much of it is animated before the voicing, gave these fine comedians a relatively short leash to work with, to greater effect in making us laugh.

Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, the directors of the film do a good job of making the movie appealing to the eye. Frequently, the recent crop of animated movies outside of the Pixar domain, don't always do a great job of keeping the art clean, bright, and attractive. For instance, Shrek seems a little dull, saturation-wise. Another example is the recent Robots, which is so busy and colorful, it is hard to keep focused on the plot. This film strikes a good balance visually, which may be due in part to Hayward's graduating out of the Pixar house of animation. I hope to see other studios benefit from this in the future, as it would be sad to have Pixar be the only game in town.

Surprisingly, there is a simplified parable of philosophy to be gleaned from the story. Horton's and Kangaroo's battle is the eternal battle between the believer and the skeptic, faith and reason. At a certain point Kangaroo is trying to dissuade her son Rudy from listening to Horton's ravings. But Horton makes a strong case, asking how the jungle dwellers are sure that they are not similarly living on a speck of dust, while others are observing them.

This was the most surreal moment for me. It was at this point when my son turns around and starts realizing his surroundings for the first time. He is no longer transported to Whoville by the immense size of the screen. He starts seeing that we are in a room, surrounded by strangers, all experiencing the wonder of a story cast on celluloid, projected onto a wall by a beam of light. In effect, we are gazing at the figurative speck of dust that is Horton Hears a Who.  And that is why I got into this line of work to begin with.

About Tony Dayoub

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    You have made me interested in seeing this because I had no faith that Hollywood could get it right.

    “Surprisingly, there is a simplified parable of philosophy to be gleaned from the story.”

    Considering the source, it’s not surprisingly at all. Many of the Dr’s stories are parables: The Loraz, The Sneetches, etc.

  • http://www.cinemaviewfinder.com Tony Dayoub

    You’re correct… once you consider the source. It’s just that Hollywood so frequently misuses the source.

    It surprised me that they got it right this time.

    Even Ron Howard didn’t get it right in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

  • natalie

    I was very excited taking my little brother to see this movie. However, I seemed to have found it very disappointing. To me, its one of the worst computer animated movies I’ve ever seen.

  • Scott Andrew

    I have to disagree that it was the worst computer animation, have seen a lot worse. Shrek didn’t impress me in the animation department, a lot of newer Disney films have looked horrible (excluding Pixar films & Meet the Robinsons).

    To me I felt finally someone got what a Dr. Seuss story should like. I felt they were very true to the illustrations in Dr Suess books (I have read them to my 3 kids repeatedly over the last 16 years). Grinch & Cat in the Hat were horrible films (find the original cartoons which are great)

    7 of us went ranging in ages from 2 – 39. We all loved the film and its amazing to have a family movie that has a positive message, which is so rare these days. And too hear my 2 year old nephew belly laugh for 90 minutes is precious.

  • http://www.cinemaviewfinder.com Tony Dayoub

    I also think that the filmmakers demonstrated great imagination in incorporating other forms of animation in brief sequences throughout the film.

    This included a Dr. Seuss-style illustrated sequence, and a Pokemon-style anime sequence.

    Who says you have to be limited by computer animation when telling a story?

  • tina the llama

    Umm the movie was really…touching. This guy was barfing next to me the whole time and it made me feel so good and refreshed, the smell of warm puke in the morning. It really just changed my life. The way the elephant jumped over the moon it made my heart sing!!!!The baby next to me had a little bit of a messie diaper. I loved it. It couldn’t have been a better movie. Oh and I accidently farted on my grandma during the scary part.

  • fredrick

    The movie was boring. I spent the whole time making out with my boyfriend. Now that was intresting.

  • Julian Walter

    Guys
    Its a fantastic fable of philosophy.
    what is truth? How many people need to believe in something to be true?
    And what is knowledge, what is important about that?
    Cheers
    Julian