Animated adaptation will have whole family saying Who-who-ray!
March 14, 2008 8:00 AM
Blue Sky Studios
Kangaroo (voice of Carol Burnett) gives Horton (voice of Jim Carrey) a piece of her mind.
By Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A person's a person, no matter how small, but a new Dr. Seuss movie should ... shout come one and come all? Not cast a pall? Make you feel tall? Just be a ball?
And "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" is largely that, particularly when it ventures into Who-ville, where the whirl of activity is wondrous. It's hard to know where to look, when almost every spot on the screen is filled with visual delights.
Take the kitchen of the mayor (voice of Steve Carell) of Who-ville and his wife. They have 96 daughters and one son and, at breakfast, the children perch on chairs attached to a conveyer belt that rotates around the table. You barely have time to see what's on the plates -- green eggs on one, ham on the next, for instance.
Although "Horton" tinkers slightly with Theodor Seuss Geisel's 1954 book, it remains faithful to its original drawings, spirit, message and celebration of imagination and respect for others.
Then as now, the story is about an elephant named Horton who finds, safeguards, loses and defends a speck of dust harboring a microscopic place called Who-ville.
Unlike past Seuss projects that were done as cartoons or with live action or both, as with "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," this is the first computer-generated animated feature. Directed by Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, it's from Blue Sky Studios, which produced "Ice Age" and its sequel (another is due in July 2009) along with "Robots."
Speaking for its three lead characters are Carell as the mayor; Jim Carrey as Horton, the sweet, fun-loving elephant who resides in the jungle of Nool; and Carol Burnett as the sour, scolding kangaroo who doesn't believe in anything she cannot see, hear or feel and wants to set Horton straight.
The kangaroo also objects to children having freedom or flexing their imagination and says if the jungle residents question authority, that will lead to defiance and anarchy.
The movie cuts back and forth between the two worlds of the jungle and Who-ville and introduces the supporting characters from the book, notably the Wickersham monkeys and Vlad Vlad-I-Koff, an eagle willing to do the jungle's dirty work.
To fill out an 88-minute running time and keep the little ones happy, the movie adds a mouse named Morton (voice of Seth Rogen) and young jungle residents who look like plush toys come to life but not always in a good way.
For slightly older filmgoers, it drops in references to phones and Facebook friends and allows Carrey to imitate Henry Kissinger, President Kennedy and rework a signature line from "Apocalypse Now."
Its most delightful scenes come in Who-ville. In the 2000 "Grinch" movie, the Whos were odd-looking creatures; here, they're the most imaginatively conceived and rendered, with careful details such as the silky fur trim on their clothes and the way 96 girls are bunked at bedtime.
Who-ville trumps the jungle of Nool but the movie is no "Ratatouille," the new gold standard for animation. It also falls back on that old standard of a sing-along for a closer.
Still, it calls to mind an old Geisel pledge to parents: "You make 'em, I amuse 'em." Half a century later, that promise holds true.