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3 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who
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by Peter Sobczynski

"If He Hears A Who, Why Is He Singing A R.E.O. Speedwagon?"
3 stars

I will admit that I walked into the screening of the animated adaptation of the beloved Dr. Seuss story “Horton Hears a Who!” in less than a jovial frame of mind. While part of this was no doubt due to the slight case of plague that I have been unable to shake for the last week or so that has left my voice sounding like Keith Richards at the wrong end of a bender and my various orifices emitting fluids usually seen only in early David Cronenberg films, most of it was due to horrible memories of how the beautiful works of the good Dr. have been grievously mishandled by Hollywood greedheads in the past–despite an admittedly strong central performance by Jm Carrey, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was a crude and unholy debasement of the classic holiday fable and the Mike Myers rendition of “The Cat In the Hat” was such a grotesque and repellent violation that an inexplicable cameo appearance from Paris Hilton turned out to be the least of its offenses. The good news is that “Horton Hears a Who!” is that it never comes close to the wholesale violation of its source material that those previous adaptations inflicted on viewers and that, for the most part, it is a bright, cheery and decent-hearted film that little kids will like and parents will more or less be able to tolerate. The bad news–okay, the not-that-good news–is that while it doesn’t completely dishonor the original story, none of the millions of dollars in cutting-edge animation and high-priced talent that have been sunk into this elaborately designed and star-studded enterprise have managed to create anything quite approximating the charms and delights that Dr. Seuss was able to conjure up in just a handful of storybook pages more than a half-century ago.

“Horton Hears a Who!” opens with friendly elephant Horton (Jim Carrey) gamboling through the Jungle of Nool when he encounters a speck of dust that appears to be talking to him. After capturing it on a flower, he discovers that the speck is really a tiny planet containing the land of Who-ville, a typically Seussian land of whimsy and wonder that is governed by a well-meaning Mayor (Steve Carell) and a board that frowns on any news that is less than 100% perfect. Although neither Horton nor the Mayor can actually see each other (the former is too large and the latter is too small), they are still able to communicate and when the Mayor asks Horton to find a safe place to put the speck so that it will be out of harm’s way, Horton cheerfully agrees–as he constantly reminds us, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” (If anyone plans to take that quote as an anti-abortion comment, it should be known that this was not the sentiment of the late Theodore Geisel and that he and his family have sued pro-life groups in the past for appropriating it for their own ends.) Unfortunately, this doesn’t set well with the stick-in-the-mud Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), who feels that professing a belief in the existence of something that people can’t see, hear or touch is inherently dangerous to the hearts and minds of the impressionable youth of Nool. She orders Horton to stop this silly nonsense at once and relinquish the flower and when he refuses, she incites the entire town into helping her try to destroy the speck once and for all and the only hope for the survival of Whoville depends on them being able to make enough noise to be heard by the people of Nool.

Unlike the previous big-screen Seuss adaptations, “Horton Hears A Who!” more or less follows the parameters of the original story without loading on unnecessary backstory or subplots to stretch things out to a feature length. There are a few new bits that have been thrown into the mix, presumably in an effort to amuse older viewers on the theory that Seuss’ own wordplay and storytelling wouldn’t be enough for them, and they are the weakest and most distracting elements of the entire film. Look, I’m all for post-modern irony and pop-culture references, but is there anyone out there who really thinks that the majesty of “Horton Hears A Who!” has been improved with the insertion of an “Apocalypse Now “ reference and Jim Carrey suddenly lapsing into a Henry Kissinger impression? Is there a studio executive at Fox who actually believes that the inclusion of a brief anime-styled segment and a running gag involving a character getting the business end of a stapler in his face would bring in a whole new audience. Does there actually exist a single Dr. Seuss fan who feels that if he were alive today, he might have watched the film, slapped his palm to his head and exclaimed “Dammit, why didn’t I think of ending the story with having the entire cast of characters break out into a sing-a-long of an old R.E.O. Speedwagon hit?”

Luckily, these “improvements” don’t ruin the film in the way that they did with “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Cat in the Hat” and there are enough other incidental pleasures to offset whatever discomfort they may inspire. The visual design from Blue Sky Studios, the people behind “Robots” and the “Ice Age” films, do a good job of approximating the look and feel of Seuss’ original illustrations without simply imitating them wholesale. The story moves along at a reasonably brisk pace and largely manages to avoid the crude slapstick that usually crops up in most family films these days. The moral of the story–that every person has a voice and deserves to be counted, no matter how insignificant others may try to make them seem–is a nice one that still resonates today and has not been grotesquely mishandled in an effort to make it seem more “relevant” to contemporary viewers. Best of all, the vocal performance from Jim Carrey as Horton is surprisingly effective–instead of indulging in an over-the-top display of vocal pyrotechnics in the manner of Robin Williams, Carrey largely sticks to the character and does a very good job of conveying the essential sweetness and steadfastness of the character without ever stepping over the line into ironic detachment.

And yet, despite all of these obvious assets, I still can’t completely get behind the idea of recommending “Horton Hears A Who!” to anyone other than families looking for 90 minutes of passable entertainment that won’t scar the younger members or completely bore the older ones. The problem is that while the film does a pretty good job of transporting Seuss’ work from the page to the screen, all of the magic and entertainment on display comes directly from the original story instead of from the movie itself. If all you are looking for is a simple screen adaptation of this material, then this film will fit the bill. If, on the other hand, if you are looking for a work of real wit and imagination–the kind that will hopefully spark the minds of a new generation of youngsters–both you and your kids would be better served by taking the ticket money and investing it in a new copy of the original book to read to them at bedtime.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16845&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/16/08 14:48:07
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User Comments

4/05/12 SEAN DUTRA horton is good, but the who story is not up to par 3 stars
9/09/09 scotty I loved it. Thought it was sweet and great animation without it being cynical 5 stars
8/12/09 Dan Better than most live action comedies. 4 stars
2/24/09 brian Finally a good Seuss movie! Tremendous animation too! 4 stars
2/09/09 Dr.Lao A Jim Carrey movie that doesn't totally suck 3 stars
6/04/08 Jayson Cute enough for kids. 3 stars
4/22/08 Jodi I liked this one. I think it was very well done 4 stars
4/12/08 atthezoo YAWN 2 stars
4/04/08 stephanie willis my grandson enjoyed this one 4 stars
3/27/08 Ima Felcher Horton Feels Up A "Who?", More Like 5 stars
3/17/08 Rob Saw this with a 3 year old and a 5 year old. They loved it, and I enjoyed it. 4 stars
3/14/08 stacy berg this is cute for kids 4 stars
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  14-Mar-2008 (G)
  DVD: 09-Dec-2008


  DVD: 09-Dec-2008

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