Horton Hears a Who (2008)

Rated: G

Length: 86 min.

Age: 6 and up            Commonsense Media sez: 4 +

Scary Factor: One scene of Horton trying to cross a rickety swinging bridge above a chasm had my daughter (4) climbing the walls and whimpering. Also the vulture Vlad is rather creepy – he is made goofy through his dialogue, but this will be lost on younger viewers who will just find him threatening. Mob descending on Horton at end is rather intense, caging him and tossing the speck into boiling oil! Situation milked for optimum suspense.

Violence: treated as humour: Mayor gets stapler stuck in his head… twice; one animal character is drop-kicked; much fall-down slapstick stuff

Language: very harsh and sarcastic; a lot of name-calling: ‘moron’, ‘idiot’, and ‘boob’ (repeated many times, the ultimate insult levelled by the town council against the mayor: my daughter was still giggling about it days later)

Interests: elephants, jungle, Dr. Seuss

Next: Dr. Seuss books

A truly uplifting story about tolerance and equality in its book form – “a person’s a person no matter how small” – is turned by extremely talented people into an extremely annoying film. This film continues the trend of casting a comedian for your lead voice and letting him rapid-fire riff his way right out of your script. (Robin Williams has got a lot to answer for!) I’m sure Jim Carrey was slaying ‘em in the recording studio, but … well… I’m just tired of moviemakers working harder to entertain themselves than the intended audience.

The expansion of the story, always necessary when turning a brief book into a feature-length film, is done pretty well at the Whoville end. The story of the Mayor’s family and friends, and the wacky design of the city are convincingly Seussian. The father-son story is just fine, standard but well-presented, and I did like Steve Carell as the mayor. Gags are a little unnecessarily broad: does he really have to punch a stapler into his forehead… twice? The utopian city in denial about being in danger is a huge concept handled in a cheerfully goofy way… just like the good Dr. S would do.

On the larger scale however, in the Jungle of Nool, things get messy. Many characters zoom by rather too fleetingly – it feels like scenes have been cut. There’s a little creature named Morton who seems to be Horton’s best friend, and who is rather fun to watch but he has barely a few seconds of screen time. Same for the little kids Horton is giving nature lessons to. Everybody whizzes through and is gone as Horton just keeps talking and talking and talking. In the book he was solid and stalwart, but in the movie he’s a ditz. I guess that would be my biggest complaint: the character of Horton has been altered far too much, he’s become simply a vehicle to show off Jim Carrey’s ricochet patter. How on earth is this scatter-brained fool going to illustrate the central truth of his character in the book:

    I meant what I said and I said what I meant.
    An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.

Again, the animators are solely occupied in entertaining themselves. The best proof of this? A weird sequence in Horton’s imagination, done in mock Japanese anime style. Mock Japanese anime. I mean, who is going to find that funny, other than the filmmakers? Who under the age of about twelve is going to find that funny? In the crowded movie theatre I saw this film in, chock-full of chattery kids, there was a marked silence during this bit. I’m talking a ‘cue the tumbleweeds’ kind of silence. And the scene was absolutely unneccessary, it didn’t propel the story forward one bit. Could have been, should have been cut. Put it in the extras reel on the DVD for comic book geeks to giggle at.

Do you need more examples? If, in 2008, a JFK impression isn’t obscure enough, how about a Henry Kissinger reference?! For the love of god! The avalanche of adult jokes buries whatever clarity the script could have had, and probably took the place of meaningful character development as well.

(It’s likely that Horton benefitted from the previous train wrecked live-action versions of The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. In comparison, this looks like cinematic brilliance.)

Another bugbear of mine… The way the characters spoke to each other was maybe too ‘modern’ for my tastes, ie. sarcastic, sharp, harsh. (This is the main reason I rated this 6+ rather then 5+.) Another symptom of trying too hard to make the parents laugh. We grown-ups don’t even notice dialogue like this anymore, but when you have to stop and explain the meaning of sarcasm, well, it makes me sad that our kids must become so conversant in it at such a young age.

One thing I did like was that in the end the major villain of the piece, Carol Burnett as the mama kangaroo, is redeemed. Horton, ever the peacemaker, sees her beaten and dejected and holds out a peace offering/cookie. She in turn pops open a protective umbrella over the speck. Nice touch. And then they ruin it all, as everyone bursts into song – “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, yes, the REO Speedwagon song. Thus turning the sincere happiness of the conclusion into a moment of arch post-modern tongue-in-cheekery. I wanted to crawl under my seat it was so awful.

This is quite a long review, mainly because this film exemplifies so much of what irritates me about recent animated movies ostensibly made for children. I’ve got to end with a good quality… the animation is great. The design on all fronts is perfect, the character design and animation terrific.


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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