The best-loved 1954 children’s book by Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) gets an appropriately colorful and vibrant film treatment with the aid of beautiful animation and expressive vocal performances. “A person is a person, no matter how small,” is the lesson that the sensitive jungle elephant Horton learns and shares with other animals when he discovers a city of little people living on a dust spec that he protects on a piece of soft clover. The well-worn story’s sheer poetry comes through in this masterpiece of children’s cinema.
There’s an existential element to the guiding ethic that Geisel leads the humanitarian Horton to champion with Dr. Seuss’ trademark tongue-rolling poetry (eloquently spoken by Charles Osgood). Screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio have done an outstanding job of fleshing out Giesel’s sparsely told original story to fill out a feature length movie.
A terrific voice cast that includes Will Arnet as the black-bottomed eagle Vlad, Steve Carell as the Mayor of Whoville, and Carol Burnett as a confrontational kangaroo, is led by Jim Carrey’s effortless incarnation as Horton. There’s real chemistry among the actors’ vocal characterizations, and their giddy infectious humor resonates against a cheery animation design.
Far from the scantily colored line drawings of the book, the movie excels in bringing scale to Horton’s jungle life as opposed to the world of Whoville. When a bunch of dastardly blue monkeys fire bananas at Horton by squeezing them through the armpits of an especially large primate, the playfulness of the slapstick comedy is charming to a fault.
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who is an inspired cinematic adaptation that improves on the book in a way that a movie of this magnitude should. There’s nothing heavy-handed here, and no fart jokes to taint the quality of the story.
It’s a movie that instantly appears as the kind of old friend that you expect it to be based on past experience. Will you still have to read the book to little kids? You bet, but now you’ll have a much better grasp of the inhabitants of Whoville and of Horton’s bravery. MTW