During his life, Dr. Seuss authored many popular children’s books, which entertained many young readers through their fantastic and outlandish quality, but which were often thought-provoking works as well. “Horton Hears a Who!” is one of these stories. For those who are not familiar with the tale, Horton is an elephant who one day hears a voice coming from a speck on a clover. Convinced (and rightly so, it turns out) that there is a miniature community of people living upon said speck, Horton bears the responsibility of finding a safe place for the clover and speck to rest, undisturbed by the rest of the world. Unfortunately, most of the neighboring animals are not convinced, and set out to prove Horton wrong and dispose of the clover. Throughout the story, Horton reiterates his particular philosophy that, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” This story finally comes to the big screen, and in most respects makes the transition well. Right off the bat, one cannot miss the gorgeous CGI visuals used in the film. Even with the high expectations audiences have regarding such technology, the film is nonetheless impressive and visually remarkable. What probably impressed me the most about this film visually is that, despite the three-dimensional nature of the film, the characters and scenery retain a very Seussish quality about them. While the medium of these illustrations is different from its literary source, the imagery stays very close to how they were originally conceived/depicted. It is as if the audience has been brought into the very book itself, which was no doubt the intention of the creators of this film.
In many ways, I found the film to be a refreshing change to previous attempts at adapting Dr. Seuss’ works into cinema. While I must admit to having enjoyed the live-action movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” I must also admit that, in some ways, the movie simply tried to be more “mature” than it needed to, particularly in terms of humor. Likewise, the film adaptation of “The Cat in the Hat” tried to incorporate more “adult” humor, though with even less benefit. “Horton Hears a Who!”, however, seems to be starting from square-one, a fresh start. It was computer animated instead of live-action (which might also have been a practical choice), and it stayed very close to its roots as far as style, plot and characterization. Very little “adult” humor is incorporated, which might strike some viewers as being too tame for their liking, but I would say that even an older audience can find the film entertaining and funny. The cast for voiceovers was also well chosen. Jim Carrey and Steve Carrel manage to bring their own unique styles of acting to the voicing of Horton and the Mayor respectively, while Carol Burnett is the voice behind the kangaroo. Fortunately, these actors/actresses do a decent job of not making their presence to keenly felt. When Horton is speaking, for instance, one has little trouble believing that it is Horton who is speaking, not Jim Carey.
The plot stayed more or less the same when compared to the book, though obviously with more elaboration and embellishment in order to give the film some meaningful length. Some of the philosophical implications of the book were explored in the film rather nicely. For instance, the Whos (the people dwelling on the speck) have some trouble coming to terms with the fact that, perhaps, their world is nothing but a particle in the larger scheme of things. Horton’s community, likewise, has trouble believing that something (in this case a tiny community) can exist which they cannot see, hear or otherwise detect with their senses. This writer will leave the work of interpreting such questions/themes to readers and those watching the film.
Possibly the most positive change (in my opinion) is that of characterization. While not a complete overhaul in comparison to their literary counterparts, the characters both major and minor in this film were developed in greater detail. Horton is a youthful, daydreaming adult figure who seems to hold no malice towards anyone, even those who would torment him. The Mayor of Whoville is something of a good-hearted but bumbling family-man who often seems to feel like the “village idiot” (and Horton’s disembodied voice certainly does little to help this, at first). Minor characters which are more fully explored include the Mayor’s skeptical but loving wife and his teenage son, who tries to reconcile his father’s expectations of him with his own ambitions, and who remains silent for most of the film.
By and large, this is definitely meant as a family film, but, as I see it, this film is still a fun one for both the young and the young at heart.
John Commisky is a student at West Chester University. He can be reached at email@example.com.