U.S. Release Date: March 14, 2008
Distributor: Fox
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Writer: Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
Producer: Bruce Anderson, Christopher Meledandri (executive), Chris Wedge (executive)
Composer: John Powell
Cast: Joey King (Voice), Jim Carrey (Voice), Steve Carell (Voice), Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen (Voice), Dan Fogler (Voice), Isla Fisher (Voice), Jonah Hill (Voice), Amy Poehler, Selena Gomez (Voice)
Running Time: 1 hour and 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: G

Fox Makes Good on Dr. Seuss
by Scott Holleran

20th Century Fox's computer-animated version of the 1954 children's book, Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, is surprisingly good. Rejecting the manic style of the terrible 2003 adaptation of The Cat in the Hat, Blue Sky Animation is more respectful of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) this time out.

Horton Hears a Who! is not perfect. A few lines divert from or contradict an interdependence theme—two individualists challenge their separate collectives—the Seth Rogen-voiced character is worthless (though the same may be said of any Seth Rogen character) and what feels like a lengthy diversion into something like a Pokemon product placement stops the story dead in its tracks.

Otherwise, animation is clear and arresting—the elephant Horton (Jim Carrey's voice) takes a swim to fine effect—and it's nicely narrated in rhyme by CBS News journalist Charles Osgood (his narration should have been more prominent). The story begins when Horton hears one of these Dr. Seuss creatures called a Who and the balance of a benevolent universe is knocked slightly off kilter. Horton aims to restore Who order.

First, he must contend with a shrill, dictatorial kangaroo mother (comedienne Carol Burnett) who bounds around the jungle like a hopping mad Hillary Clinton with a pouch. Miss Burnett is fabulously distinctive as the evil villain—and the 'roo is evil, though the writers do not resolve her arc with that in mind.

After big-eared Horton hears a Who, from a miniscule world located on a speck that becomes lodged on a clover, others are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. His hearing is acute and he's a decent bloke that plays well with kids. But the kangaroo knows that the community's faith in her supreme authority has been doubted and she plots to dislodge—and, later, destroy—the Who's down in Whoville.

When it isn't aimed at boosting foreign box office with pandering subplots, Horton Hears a Who! engages the viewer on this compelling little journey, and it's entirely child-safe, even child-friendly, as far as the value of learning that one must exercise one's own judgment and go by reason, not on faith.

Carrey keeps his antics in check and Horton Hears a Who!, which also has the audacity to retain Dr. Seuss' challenge to the notion that majority rules, really swings down in Whoville (also the name of the village in the hyper Dr. Seuss-based Jim Carrey vehicle How the Grinch Stole Christmas).

That owes to several factors: excellent animation—including a suspenseful bridge crossing and an organic two-dimensional nod to the inventive Dr. Seuss storybook illustrations—a solid father-son subplot and another reliable turn by Steve Carell as the hapless mayor of Whoville. Like Horton, who refuses to doubt his own judgment, the mayor, castigated by everyone in Whoville, including his wife, thinks for himself. He and Horton work together against Miss Burnett's wicked forces—a Soviet-style bird named Vladimir (Will Arnett)—to protect the Who's before they are slaughtered.

True to life, evil triumphs when good people do nothing and it usually happens in the name of "the children," which adds a strong sense of urgency to Horton Hears a Who! that stampedes to an exciting, emotional climax and incorporates an optimistic note of unity.

"Make some noise," someone urges at a particularly pregnant moment, and the one who does—individual ability, not mob rule, saves the day—is a softspoken, intelligent child who dares to defy everyone, including family and society. Forget the inane, generic power ballad at the end of Horton Hears a Who!; the sound that matters are the lone voices speaking out in unison against more of the same small-minded tripe. That happens to be exactly what the world needs now.

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