Dr Seuss' Horton Hears A Who!

Dr Seuss' Horton Hears A Who!

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

For many people, being disbelieved is one of the most difficult experiences in childhood. Adults always stress the importance of telling the truth, so it's hard to know what to do when they simply won't accept that truth - perhaps because they've lost the power of imagination.

Though he's a sort of grown-up (a very boisterous one), Horton the elephant finds himself in this position when he discovers a tiny world in a speck atop a clover. To make matters worse, his disbelievers, lead by the fearsome Sour Kangaroo, plan to destroy the clover in order to demonstrate his folly. Horton vows to carry it to safety at the top of a mountain. In the meantime, its microscopic mayor (whom he can hear because of his very big ears) struggles to convince his eternally optimistic people of the threat to their world.

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The story opens with a drop of water falling from a leaf - a little thing, but sufficient to trigger a devastating series of events for tiny Whoville. It's beautifully rendered with state-of-the-art animation and what follows is a splendid series of visuals showcasing the latest triumphs of the art. Big, rubbery-textured Horton lives in a rich jungle environment where there's always something happening. The Whos, meanwhile, are presented in a slightly different style more directly evocative of Dr. Seuss' own drawings, clearly delineating their alienness. Watching them is still a visual delight. The systems of levers, catapults and pulleys which they use to get around in Whoville is relentlessly entertaining and their urban environment has been magnificently realised.

The big problem with this film is that its story is really too slight. To bulk it out to feature length, some scenes have been heavily padded and musical sequences have been added. An early scene done in kids' Japanime style is hilarious and very well judged, but seems aimed more at adults than children. In other places the story becomes far too repetitive and drags, losing the tension upon which it really depends.

Horton is a likable character but he's not a complex one, so there's only so much there to hold the interest - likewise the Mayor of Whoville. The Sour Kangaroo will only scare you if you're under six, so we have to rely on other supporting characters to make things work. Vlad the vulture, a sort of Russian mafioso assassin all ragged and armed with sharp claws, is a great subsidiary villain who would have benefited from more screen time, making up for disappointing monkey thugs. Horton's frantic advisor Morton the mouse combines affection and neurosis to great effect; and, in Whoville, the Mayor's tiny son Jo-Jo, who looks as if he might be more at home in a Tim Burton movie, proves competently that a person's a person, no matter how small.

If claims by certain websites have led you to believe that this is a film which pushes a political agenda (its 'slogan' having been adopted by the pro-life movement, whom Dr Seuss attempted to sue), rest assured that it does nothing of the sort. Its comments on the importance of belief in what we can't see could be considered to have religious undertones but could equally well be applied to scientific curiosity. There's a bit of a global warming message but it's not heavy-handed and never stretches or occludes the basic story. What it does seem to want to say is that imagination is a good thing, that it's important to be honest and respect other people, and that one should always try to keep promises - wholesome enough messages for any child.

Horton Hears A Who! is a pleasantly entertaining film which will amuse children without greatly distressing adults. What's unfortunate is that it isn't nearly as entertaining as it ought to be, given the source material. This is made worse by its journey across the Atlantic - much of the comedy employs a distinctly American style which will be lost on UK audiences. Sometimes communication between worlds isn't quite as easy as Horton makes it appear.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2008
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Dr Seuss' Horton Hears A Who! packshot
Horton the elephant discovers a tiny world and strives to protect it from those who won't believe in it.
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Director: Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino

Writer: Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, based on the story by Dr. Seuss.

Starring: Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Seth Rogen

Year: 2008

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

Dr Seuss' The Lorax
Dumbo