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Who-ray for Horton!

Observer Scene | Wednesday, March 19, 2008

After disappointing adaptations of “The Cat in the Hat” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Dr. Seuss properly comes to life in “Horton Hears a Who!” from Blue Sky Studios (“Ice Age”). With breathtaking animation and a heartwarming, well-crafted story, “Horton” suggests that Dr. Seuss has found his home away from live-action and in the world of feature animation.The story of “Horton” begins with a simple action – a speck of dust is dislodged from a daisy. But what makes this event extraordinary is that the speck of dust houses the tiny world of the Whos, and now that they are precariously floating through the air, their world is in danger. Horton the elephant (voiced by Jim Carrey) hears the Whos’ screams and makes it his mission to find a safe place for the tiny world as he carries it on a clover.

Meanwhile, in Who-ville, Mayor Ned O’Malley (Steve Carell) is struggling to keep the peace while figuring out what is causing the strange weather conditions and earthquakes in his fair city. After making contact with Horton, Ned discovers that Who-ville is a speck of dust in danger of extinction. Ned must rely on Horton to carry the Whos to safety as the trusty elephant goes up against Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), who believes that Horton is dangerously encouraging children to use their imaginations, and a vulture named Vlad (Will Arnett), who Kangaroo hires to dispose of the speck of dust. Few animals in the Jungle of Nool believe Horton’s tale, but he never gives up protecting the Whos because he firmly believes that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Although “Horton” is clearly a children’s movie, its humor and animation can appeal to adults as well. The comedy is smart and goes beyond visual gags and potty humor. “Horton” takes after the Disney-Pixar films in its ability to captivate audiences of all ages. It doesn’t hurt that comedians like Carrey, Carell, Burnett, Arnett, Amy Poehler, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill lend their voices to the animated characters. Fans of these actors’ live action work will appreciate their animated work as well. Rogen may have to check the foul language at the door, but his sarcasm is just as present in Horton’s buddy Morton as it is in any one of his comedies.

The movie becomes difficult to watch as the animals of the Jungle of Nool try to imprison Horton and destroy the speck of dust, but it is only difficult because we fear for the futures of Horton and the Whos and because the political undertones of Dr. Seuss’ work become eerily apparent when his short book is drawn out to 88 minutes. After all, “Horton Hears a Who!” was written during the peak of the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s and many critics have drawn parallels between Dr. Seuss’ work and the McCarthy saga. But even children’s movies can be a little bit scary.

Not everything is perfect in the world of Dr. Seuss all the time, but that’s what happy endings are for. We’re even treated to a musical number that seems to come straight out of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

“Horton” really has it all – comedy, adventure, suspense, good guys and bad guys that turn good so that everyone can be happy. While watching Horton float down a river or Ned run around Who-ville, you have to wonder if the fantastical images on screen are what Dr. Seuss imagined as he dreamed up the Jungle of Nool and the world inside the tiny speck of dust. They must be pretty darn close.

Contact Cassie Belek at cbelek@nd.edu.