Tuesday 4 November 2008

Horton Hears A Who! (2008)

Tuesday 4 November 2008
Directors: Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino
Writers: Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul (based on the book by Dr. Seuss)

The day-glo colours, ugly characters and incessant rhyming of Dr. Seuss' children's books never appealed to me. It doesn't surprise me the author only really became a household name in America, where his back-catalogue is now being adapted by Hollywood -- first with the prolonged bore of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, then the vomit-inducing awfulness of The Cat In The Hat. Fortunately, Horton Hears A Who! is a marked improvement, mainly because it ditches live-action in favour of CGI animation -- undoubtedly the best medium for Seuss' tales on the big-screen...

Jim Carrey (in his second Seuss movie, following Grinch) voices Horton; an imaginative, good-natured elephant living in the Jungle of Nool. Steve Carell voices Ned McDodd; the Mayor of peace-loving Whoville, who has fathered 96 daughters and a son. The imaginative barrier between them is simple: unbeknownst to the citizens of Whoville, their planet exists on a speck of dust that Horton spies drifting through the jungle after hearing voices coming from it.

Trouble is, the talking animals of Horton's universe aren't able to hear anything from the microbial Who-speck, and villainess Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) condemns Horton for his apparently idiotic insistence that a whole world exists beyond their comprehension. The other problem, for the Who's of Whoville, is that nobody believes the Mayor's claim there's a giant, invisible, talking elephant in the sky, or that their existence is threatened unless said elephant finds a safe place for their minuscule planet to reside.

The problem for the audience is that Horton Hears A Who! offers a very precarious mix of existential imagination, surreal designs, slapstick, and adult references (paraphrasing Apocalypse Now, impersonating Henry Kissinger.) Since Toy Story, CGI animation has cultivated a reputation for appealing to both kids and adults, but Horton doesn't quite pull off that difficult trick…

It's just too silly and meandering for adults (where the theological basis for the story wears thin quickly), and not nearly funny enough for young kids. Jim Carrey's animated elephant fails to get anywhere near the improvisational highs of, say, Robin Williams' genie from Aladdin, while the supporting characters are all quite bland, unimaginative and forgettable. If it wasn't for the retina-burning vivacity of the colour palette, coupled with Seuss' already oddball designs, there's every chance kids under-10 would be zoning out after 30 minutes.

Still, I appreciated the subtext of global warming and ecological disaster -- which appears to be a recurring theme in Blue Sky Studio's oeuvre, following their Ice Age movies. Credit too for the slightly religious undertone of "prophets" trying to persuade people to believe in something intangible, although both Horton and the Mayor obviously have to offer everyone incontrovertible proof by the end.

Horton Hears A Who! also does a decent job of expanding Dr. Seuss' rather thin fable into 88-minutes (something its live-action precursors failed to achieve), although it still drags slightly around the 45-minute mark. Overall, I can't see this becoming a cherished classic, and a lack of belly laughs won't endear it to much repetition, but there's intellectual worth behind the snappy, effervescent animation that's not to be sniffed at.

20th Century Fox / Blue Sky Studios
Budget: $85 million
88 minutes

Voices: Jim Carrey (Horton), Steve Carell (Ned McDodd), Seth Rogen (Morton), Carol Burnett (Sour Kangaroo), Josh Flitter (Rudy), Jesse McCartney (JoJo McDodd), Selena Gomez & Samantha Droke (96 Daughters), Amy Poehler (Sally McDodd), Isla Fisher (Dr. Mary Lou Larue), Will Arnett (Vlad Vladikoff), Dan Fogler (Yummo & The Chairman), Jamie Pressley (Mrs. Quilligan), Laura Ortiz (Jessica Quilligan, Jonah Hill (Tommy), Joey King (Katie) & Joe Pasquale (The Dentist)