The classic Seussian tale begins with an elephant named Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey) who decides it’s too hot and that he’d like to cool down. So, he decides to go swimming ina pool in the jungle of Nool (if I could write my whole review in rhyme, I would). While bathing in the pool, a tiny speck floats by Horton’s ear, and he hears voices yelling. Horton, convinced that there are people on the speck, rushes to save it from landing in the water by catching it on a clover.
All the while, the rest of the jungle thinks Horton is crazy, but no one more than the big bad kangaroo (Carol Burnett) whose mission it is to destroy the clover “for the children!” Meanwhile, Horton is right about the speck and inside the tiny dust ball is a town named Whoville that’s four sizes smaller than Horton’s world. Horton speaks with the mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell), and together they decide that the speck needs to reach a safe and stable place at the top of Mount Nool or Whoville will be destroyed.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film was the number of styles and animation that co-directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino were willing to explore. For instance, the jungle of Nool has a warm, cartoony, otherworldly feel to it, while the town of Whoville is undoubtedly Seussian. There is also a sequence animated in 2-D in the same style as the original Seuss books (think Cat in the Hat) and another sequence that does a hilariously fine job of imitating Japanese anime. Most importantly though, the shifts never get in the way of the story.
On the subject of animation, it seems that computer animated stories have finally reached a point past the “wow” factor, where the computer doodles don’t have to become more important than the story.
The animation was fantastic. It was rich and textured, and in the opening scene, the water that Horton swims in looks incredibly real. The water, however, is about the only thing that looks real, which is a good thing. The biggest mistake that the live-action Seuss films made was trying to recreate the world of Dr. Seuss with tangible sets. It never quite felt like Seuss; it never quite felt like anything at all. It was a blah attempt at a world that was meant to live in imaginations. Luckily for the audience of “Horton,” Blue Sky had a grip on what it wanted visually from the story, and the beauty of computer animation is that everything that is seen on screen is amazingly calculated and detailed.
It’s also worth noting that composer John Powell’s score was excellent (save for an unfitting song at the end). I got really excited when, during the climax, Powell was most certainly aiming to score a song similar to Ennio Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold.” That song is famously known for playing during the climax of Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and it was a nice homage to the spaghetti westerns.
But what irked me most about the film, however, was the sometimes over-the-top acting of Carrey and Carell. They are both comedic powerhouses, for sure, but there’s something about the voice acting improvisation by both of them that doesn’t carry over into animation. Perhaps it’s because the spontaneity of it is lost in the technicality of animating it. In any case, the voice acting was nothing short of superb.
Outside of Carrey and Carell, sometimes getting lost in trying to be funny, the supporting cast delivered wonderfully. Carol Burnett reminded me of every overbearing mom who I’ve been unlucky enough to overhear (“Horton is teaching the kids to use their imagination!”– gasp!).
The smaller characters are littered with celebrities, including Will Arnett, Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Isla Fisher, Jaime Pressly and Amy Poehler, to name a few. It’s unfortunate that many of their roles are fairly small, especially Arnett as the bounty hunter vulture, Vlad.
Overall, “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” was surprisingly good. Blue Sky Studios certainly brought out a film that rivals what Pixar has been doing for years with movies such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo. “Horton” was visually exciting, featured an astounding cast of voice actors, and was faithful to the world of Dr. Seuss. It’s cliche, I know, but it truly is a film that can be enjoyed by all ages if you’re willing to lose yourself in one of Seuss’ wonderlands. So go to the theater and buy a ticket; and if you see a speck of dust, don’t you dare flick it because as Horton would say, to one and to all, “a person is a person, no matter how small.”
This review was originally published for the Collegiate Times, the student newspaper of Virginia Tech. Read the original publication.