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Movie Review: Horton Hears a Who

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Over the past few years there have been a few attempts to translate Dr. Seuss's tales from the printed page to the big screen. The first was the live action take on How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was an entertaining if flawed take on the classic tale. Next was the abysmal Cat in the Hat, which is an affront to the Seuss name.

This third feature leaves the live action behind in favor of computer driven animation with its target being Horton Hears a Who. The use of animation would seem to have an advantage over the live action, with the ability to more accurately reflect the surreal illustrations of the classic tale. Now, having seen the film, I am pleased to report that it is easily the best looking and most accurate in tone and execution of the recent adaptation attempts.

Surprisingly, this is one the Dr. Seuss stories that I have very little memory of. Frankly, I am not sure that I ever actually read this one, as opposed to Grinch, Cat in the Hat, and Green Eggs and Ham. This ended up making the story much more fresh than it would be if I was a bit more familiar with it.

The story is a simple one. It espouses the mantra that "A person is a person, no matter how small." It is a positive outlook on live, recognizing the rights of all living beings regardless of status. In addition to the positive tale, I found the overall story to be well written and much smarter than I was expecting it to be. I liked the way it touched on issues of faith, imagination, and a right to life. It brought up these issues without feeling preachy, never digging terribly deep while still retaining a definite intelligence.

In the film, Horton (Jim Carrey in his second Seuss appearance) becomes the guardian of a clover, which contains a speck, which serves as home to all of Whoville. Horton, already something of an outcast in his home, becomes even more of a target of the righteous right, led by Kangaroo (Carol Burnett). He is attacked for his belief that there are living people on the speck; he is also ostracized for indirectly encouraging the children to use their imagination and have independent thought. This will not stand with the current regime, leading Kangaroo to employ Vlad the Vulture (Will Arnett) to "take care of" the problem. Of course, Horton stands steadfast with his belief and continues to protect the speck to the best of his ability, fending off the attacks from Vlad.

While Horton's side of the story is fun and interesting in its political overtones, it is not the entire story. Down on the speck, the Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) is having problems of his own. He is the only one to notice the stange changes that are going on around them, perhaps indicating the impending demise of their society. With more odd things going on around him, he attempts to bring attention to the city council, resulting in a clamp-down by the government to gag him, lest the populace learn that things are not quite as rosy as they had been led to believe.

The Mayor also learns of Horton's existence, and the two work towards safeguarding their society from the threat of the outside world. It is a wonderful story of friendship, faith, and acceptance as it builds towards its positive climax.

Beyond the story, the animation is very good, giving the most accurate depiction of the Seuss world since the televised animations. It is not quite accurate, as there is something special about the flat, hand-drawn images of old. However, there is a sequence that introduces the hand drawn look, and it evokes thoughts of the illustrations. There is also another sequence that re-imagines Horton's guardianship as an anime film, complete with dubbed voices, off speech patterns, and stylized animation. The weird thing is that despite the change in tone, it still works in the context of the film.

Also, the voice acting is quite good. Jim Carrey puts a distinctive stamp on the character of Horton, injecting much energy and life into the role, taking his performance to the edge, yet never going over it. On the other side of the coin, Steve Carell is understated, exasperated, worried, and hopeful as the Mayor of Whoville. Together, the two complement each other, giving the film a well-rounded feel. The rest of the voice cast are strong as well, including Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Isla Fisher, and Seth Rogen. Finally, there is Charles Osgood who narrates the film, using much of the original text. He brings atmosphere to the picture, keeping thar Seussian feel with the rhythms and the rhymes.

Bottom line. I liked this movie a lot. There are smiles, chuckles, laughs, serious thoughts, and overall fun to be found throughout. It is a pleasant family film that has plenty to appeal to both children and adults. Definitely give this one a look see.

Highly Recommended.

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