- Rated G
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All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by David Medsker
ollywood has been kind to the estate of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, but it has beaten the spirit of his work to a pulp with a nail-studded baseball bat. Ron Howard’s live-action remake of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is one of the most unloved $260 million-grossing movies in history, and the less said about “The Cat in the Hat,” the better (though that movie grossed $100 million as well). Thank heaven then that “Horton Hears a Who!,” the first Seuss foray into CGI, rights nearly every wrong of its live-action predecessors. The design is spectacular, the laughs are unforced and honest, and the voice talent, which is stuffed – overstuffed, in fact – with comedians, wisely underplays the material. Except for Jim Carrey, that is. He just can’t help himself with this Seuss stuff.
Carrey is Horton, a blissfully happy – if blissfully ignorant – elephant with nary a care. One day, while teaching some younger animals about nature, he sees a speck of dust float by and hears a scream. Horton uses a clover to catch the speck and discovers that the speck actually serves as the planet for an entire civilization of tiny beings.. His contact to this world is the Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell), who senses that their world is in danger but has trouble convincing people because he is generally viewed as a buffoon. But that is only half of his trouble. Horton’s jungle village is run by a nosy kangaroo (Carol Burnett), who accuses Horton of promoting independent thought with his heretical beliefs about this tiny civilization. Horton leaves the jungle to find a safe place for Whoville, but the kangaroo recruits some muscle in the form of a vulture named Vlad (Will Arnett) to obtain and destroy the clover.
The shots of Whoville would make Geisel beam with pride. The characters are spitting images of those in the Dr. Seuss books, as are the houses, transportation devices, and multi-tiered tennis courts. It is a glorious exercise in soul versus technology, and they prove that by doing a scene in classic 2D animation style, and it’s one of the movie’s best moments. The jokes come fast and furiously, but not in a haphazard, desperate way; they know where the funny is, and they brought a lot of it with them. How refreshing.
Then there is Carrey, who turns the role of Horton into his own version of the Genie from “Aladdin.” He talks a lot but doesn’t say much, throwing in various impressions that make little sense (plus his John F. Kennedy sounds more like Diamond Joe Quimby). Carell knows he’s the straight man, and wisely takes the lumps he has coming to him. The script does such a good job creating its own universe that it loses half a star for leaning on a pop song – an REO Speedwagon song, for God’s sake – to wrap things up. Picking a style of song is one thing – how about showing the people of Whoville having a Whodown, and line dancing? – but ending your movie with a pop song, after spending the entire movie creating something parallel but different to our world, is just lazy. Heck, the song they use doesn’t even make sense in context with the scene, turning a sweet moment of bonding into something strangely homoerotic.
If we’re lucky, “Horton Hears a Who!” will officially signal the death of all things live-action Dr. Seuss. He was never thinking about Broadway stage productions or movie sets when he created his worlds; there is no reason we should, either.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Fox jam packs this DVD with featurettes, but they’re not terribly exciting. There are a bunch of deleted scenes in various forms from story board sketches to nearly finished CGI, and a slew of screen tests. Jim Carrey gets his own featurette (Steve Carell, interestingly, does not), and there is a bit on elephants and saving our “speck” (Earth). Much ado will be made of the short film starring Sid from the “Ice Age” movies, but trust us, it is no funnier than anything else Sid has ever done (which is to say, not funny at all). There is also a “Simon”-like game where the player has to hit instruments in a certain order. It’s cute, but easy.