by Rob Gonsalves
Carol Burnett, who turns 75 next month, is in strong, scary voice as the Sour Kangaroo in the new computer-animated "Horton Hears a Who." Her Kangaroo, small-minded and intolerant, sounds a bit like the recently infamous homophobe Sally Kern, only without the Arkansas twang.Other than that, Iím not sure how much political significance we should ascribe to this tale, which began as a Dr. Seuss book in 1951 and was adapted by Seuss and Chuck Jones as a TV cartoon in 1970. The pro-life movement took up the storyís refrain ďA personís a person no matter how smallĒ (over Seussís objections), while the Kangarooís cohorts the Wickersham Brothers have been read as Seussís slap at Joe McCarthy. A story that can mean anything you want it to mean usually wasnít meant to mean anything.
"When you hear little voices, don't take medication."
The relevance Horton may have today is that someone hearing tiny voices no one else can hear isnít necessarily crazy. In fact, such people most often produce enduring entertainment; Dr. Seuss himself, cheerfully rattling on for over fifty years in anapestic tetrameter, probably heard his share of Whos, to say nothing of Grinches, Loraxes, Ooblecks, Yooks and Zooks. The hideous live-action adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat reduced Seussís vibrant world to a speck of dust, but Horton plucks it up and rests it safely in its proper place. A bit too much on the frenetic side, the movie is nonetheless colorful and diverting, with a merciful lack of scatalogical humor or other depredations that would set the good doctorís corpse spinning.
As the Grinch, Jim Carrey had to push his comedic will through pounds of latex; as the voice of Horton, he comes through with considerably more purity ó Horton has even been rendered with Carreyís heavy eyebrows and puckish smirk. Horton discovers an entire world inside a speck of dust, which sounds like heís ready to ride the bus with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, but never mind. The Kangaroo finds Hortonís claims dangerous. The Whos, who exist happily if uneasily on the speck, try to impress upon Horton the importance of a stable homeland ó stop hopping around, you fool, and put us on a sunflower or something. The Kangaroo places various obstacles in Hortonís path, such as a mean but not terribly bright vulture and a pack of monkeys.
A first-time directing effort by Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, who got their start in various capacities on several Pixar films, Horton teems with hip vocal talent ranging from CBS anchorman Charles Osgood (as the narrator) to Laraine Newman to, seemingly, half the Judd Apatow stable (Steve Carell as Whovilleís mayor, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill), and, once again, the husband-and-wife comedy assassins Will Arnett and Amy Poehler. The movie is awash in personality, especially with such unaccountably funny characters as Katie, a little yellow fluffball that hovers and says things like "In my world, everyone's a pony, and they all eat rainbows and poop butterflies.Ē Sounds like Steve Martin on a good night.
My favorite Seuss feature film remains 1953ís The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, so Horton takes second place by default, simply by virtue of not being dreck like the Grinch and Cat movies. Seussís widow Audrey Geisel is a producer here, too, so we must assume it has the doctorís blessing once removed (she sensibly stayed away from Grinch and Cat). As we watch Horton and the hapless Mayor of Whoville on their tandem missions to convince their peers of each otherís existence, we realize weíre seeing the old story of communication updated to the can-you-hear-me-now age.This "Horton" is about allowing ourselves to acknowledge and be moved by people, or perhaps concepts, we never even knew existed. Horton and the Mayor are happy to discover each other. Others are content to stay ignorant and unimaginative. When the movie comes out on DVD, someone should send Sally Kern a copy.
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originally posted: 03/16/08 00:07:52