April 17, 2008

Horton Hears a Who! Review


Length: 88 min

One Elephant One World One Story.
The Next Big Comedy Event.
A person’s a person no matter how small!

Précis: Charming and clever adaptation of Dr Seuss’s story that is actually a great laugh for adults too.

Review by Matt:

Horton Hears a Who! is another big budget, star-ridden, animated kids’ blockbuster. As an embellished adaptation of Dr Seuss’s famous children’s rhyme of the same name, Horton Hears a Who! has really got it going on for the kids. It’s imaginative, colourful, funny and friendly. But whether a film like this is truly high quality or not, it sometimes seems its target age group will always scream with delight, do some cartwheels, eat the happy meal, and then fall asleep on the way home. The true contest is: can it also appeal to you, the more discerning adult viewer?

The answer is a joyous ‘yes’. And unexpectedly so. I saw Horton Hears a Who! with some trepidation. Firstly, I’m not a kid. But secondly, I’m also not really a fan of Twentieth Century Fox Animations’ previous efforts, Robots and the Ice Age films. They seemed to lack the clever sparkle that made some of the Pixar hits – such as The Incredibles and Ratatouille – a hoot for adults as well. But, with Horton Hears a Who!, Fox found the sparkle. It is a frenzied delight, both clever and slapstick-funny, resulting in one of the most entertaining movies around at the moment for viewers of all ages.

Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey) is an affable jungle elephant who one day hears tiny voices emanating from a speck of dust. He’s not crazy – his elephant ears have detected the sounds of an infinitesimal, fun-loving civilization called “Whos”. The Whos, led by their loveable Mayor (voiced by Steve Carrell), are cheerful oddballs and they love “Whoville”, a place of curves and contraptions that is quintessentially Seussian (and that could lead to a whole new wave of ‘sea-monkey’ sales). But in the world outside their world, the Whos’ speck-sized planet has been dislodged. Lucky thing Horton has nestled it safely in a flower so that he can find a place for safe resettlement. Unfortunately, Horton’s mission is impeded by the Jungle’s waspish matriarch (voiced by Carol Burnett), a kangaroo who surely would be out of a job if her name didn’t rhyme with “who”. Unable to hear the tiny Whos, Kangaroo is incensed at Horton’s imagination, insisting (rather fanatically) that imagination leads to rebellion and rebellion to anarchy. Meanwhile down in Whoville, the poor Mayor is the only one who can hear Horton, and he struggles to convince the inhabitants of a world where nothing has ever gone wrong, that something is about to go spectacularly wrong.

Horton Hears a Who! is tightly packed with action and movement – there are things flying around all over the place. As you’d expect, the animation is top-quality, but it is also directed smartly and a couple of the elaborate action sequences are great. But best of all, the film has a sense of humour with a taste for the absurd (the sudden ridiculous pop-song tickled me just right) and it is often, surprisingly, uproarious. Like many modern animations, it is also self-aware, which allows for a few smart anti‑climax jokes and a great parody sequence of the animated style. Maybe kids these days are getting used to post-modern animations (is post-post-modern on the way?) but I still love it when cartoons make jokes by defying genre conventions.

Using quality comedic actors for the voices also pays off. Steve Carrell plays a combination of his other “loveable doofus” characters, giving the Mayor a klutzy charm. Jim Carey uses just about the right balance of comedic wackiness for Horton, keeping the volume well below his maximum setting of “Ace Ventura”. Will Arnett gives an amusing exaggerated evil to Vlad, a vampiric vulture who sounds exactly as you would expect an evil character called Vlad to sound. With two evil vulture roles in a row (he was also the evil vulture in Ice Age 2) Will Arnett also cements himself as the number one vulture-voice guy in town.

Inside its zany shell, Horton Hears a Who! tells a pretty simple moral tale, championing Dr Seuss’s worthy maxim of universal humanity: “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” The characters do seem a bit representational; Kangaroo is especially extreme – and kind of irritating – in all her imagination-crushing authority. The willingness of the jungle folk to be moulded into a lynch mob is also a bit disheartening. The film’s decrying of the “it doesn’t exist if you can’t see it” attitude could easily be interpreted as a religious comment, but thankfully it doesn’t really push this at us. In fact, the only pushing is saved for better messages: that we should stand up to the dream-crushers and that we should care for everyone, even the little folks. It’s a nice message to teach the little folks watching Horton Hears a Who. Of course, it doesn’t go astray on the big folks either (Dr Seuss’s original story was apparently a parable about the US occupation of Japan). But, the best bit of all is that it comes in a consistently hilarious and fun package.


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