This delightful animated film intertwines narrative verse and dialogue to deliver a fable from the playful pen of Dr. Zeuss. Although we now have a plethora of meticulously realised productions in this medium I do feel that this one rises above most, mainly due to the faithful recreation of Whoville and it’s inhabitants, the Whos.
Horton is a kindly, but somewhat dippy, elephant who literally hears a tiny high pitched sound coming from a speck of dust on a head of clover. It transpires that the noise is issuing from the town of Whoville, where the Whos reside. Horton’s claim is rubbished by Nool, the widely feared kangaroo ruler of the jungle, whose hard headed pragmatism has no time for nonsensical flights of fancy. She therefore implores Horton to relinquish the clover and his accompanying ‘ridiculous’ notion. The elephant bravely resists and persists.
The story shifts between the jungle and Whoville where the mayor becomes similarly isolated in trying to convince the residents and the City Council of Horton’s existence. The two have learned to communicate with each other, with Horton’s voice exiting the mayoral drainpipe. The mayor soon learns that any jerking or movement of the speck in the jungle causes much wider repercussions in Whoville itself, or as the story goes,
‘….a small bump above, was a big bump below’.
Therefore Horton’s mission to keep the speck in closely guarded sanctuary becomes imperative, yet perilous. Similarly, the Mayor tries to persuade the City Council that greater powers are at work, and that Whoville’s fate lies in other hands. His unpopularity reaches its apogee when he recommends the cancellation of the Who Centennial celebrations. Now, nothing had ever gone wrong in Whoville and such a proposal leads to scorn and ridicule for the disgraced civic dignitary.
Horton guards the tiny Whos by carrying the clover round with his trunk, however Nool is determined to retrieve the speck herself to put an end to Horton’s nonsense and unhealthy influence. Therefore, she resorts to increasingly sinister tactics in order to snatch it from his grasp.
The shift of the story involves some excellent pulse-quickening chases and gasp-inducing conflict. Horton needs to convince Nool and her jungle subjects. The mayor needs to convince the stuffed shirts of the City Council and his townsfolk. But who, or is that Who, shall prevail?
There is also an endearing sub-plot, involving the mayor and his sole son, JoJo. A silent, inexpressive and misunderstood child, he skulks around afraid that he will fall short of his father’s lofty expectations of him. His fear of failing, is such that he would apparently prefer to not speak at all, than speak out of turn. His father’s challenge is to make a connection with, or even elicit a response from, him.
Averse to verse?
Of course this sublime production would be a non-starter if it were not for Dr Seuss. He does seem to be something of an acquired taste, with his his chaotic imagination funnelled into quasi-nonsense verse, he doesn’t appeal to all. If you do have any reservations or misgivings then I would recommend this as a good starting point. It seems
sacrilege to say, but the verse is cut back enough to let the story breathe. I say this because I feel that a whole film in verse would be overkill, and the dialogue helps to break the monotony that this may cause. Having said that, there is many a fun-packed rhyming couplet to help colour and illuminate the narrative.
In the jungle
The jungle scenes are good, with a lush landscape, dizzying waterfalls and a wonderfully colourful array of animals. Horton is blessed with very pliable ears, which are put to good use by their innovative transformation into various styles of rather fetching headwear.
The elephant also uses his talent for improvisation to good effect when filling his trunk with air to ‘facilitate’ a rope bridge crossing. He appears almost balletic, to the strains of Strauss’s The Blue Danube, in this particularly challenging odyssey!
Horton’s new feeling of responsibility leads to his heroism being drawn into an animé style cartoon, as he comes over all Bruce Lee in a particular daydream.
The blue monkeys, headed by Wickersham, also have novel uses for bananas. This comprises impromptu binoculars (or is that bananoculars?), machine gun bullets and huge banana boulders fired from a makeshift mangonel!
Some of the scenes, such as a snowscape on the way to Mount Nool and an endless cloverfield in the setting sun are very aesthetically pleasing on the eye.
Bad Vlad, a Russian vulture and erstwhile hired hand, is at one both sinister and comical with his razor sharp beak and talons, and scruffy, dog-eaten black feathers.
Who lives in a place like this?
Although the jungle scenes are enjoyable, for me, the real gem of this production is the creation of Whoville. This miniscule town is gloriously portrayed with its lopsided, arched houses, tennis courts and cheery populace. The inhabitants are very much the archetypal Dr. Seuss creations, with their elongated foreheads and distinctive facial features.
One of the early scenes introduces us to the mayoral family, with his wife and 96 daughters! With such numerous offspring, his fatherly attention to each daughter is rationed accordingly, and we see all the girls shunted along on a production line of seats for their fleeting paternal meeting.
Another scene sees one of his daughters ask her father for a glass of water. This is heard by another daughter, who then makes the same request until the domino effect is repeated throughout their entire number. The sight of him balancing 97 glasses of water, one is for JoJo, is brilliantly done, right down to his refracted features through the sloshing vessels as he talks to his son. Who said men can’t multi-task?!
There is also a scene where the Whos are called upon to make as much noise as they possibly can, or as Dr. Seuss more poetically puts it,
‘ The mayor grabbed a tom tom and started to smack it
And all over Whoville they whooped up a racket’.
To bolster the volume a couple of Whos visit a disused observatory, where someone’s clandestine project has culminated in an ingenious Heath Robinson design which helps to crank up the cacophony!
One character worthy of mention is the lisping Dr Lou De Larue, whose mirthful mouthings and lab goggles provide considerable comedic sustenance! She announces an alarming seasonal anomaly by proclaiming , ‘it’s schnowing in schummer’!
You will no doubt spot a very 21st century touch when the mayor’s assistant, Miss Yelp, is caught gloating over her 15,000 friends on ‘Whospace’ – is there nowhere free from social networking?
The magic of Whoville is enchantingly captured in all the above scenes and many more.
I see ‘Horton Hears a Who’ as a fable in which open-minded, tolerant kindness vies with blinkered, dogmatic cynicism. I suppose that these doubts are well founded, but it is the reaction of some of the most intransigent doubters that makes you want Horton and the mayor to prevail. Maybe the officious nature of the City Council’s stuffed shirts and the kangaroo is called into question? The latter is introduced as someone who
‘… made every law, enforced every rule
As self-proclaimed head of the jungle was Nool.”
Such dogmatism, borne of lack of imagination, is certainly something I can identify with in my observation of certain commitees and so forth! Implicit here is also the notion that it is sometimes best to be receptive to others, however bizarre their reasoning may seem.
Dr. Seuss was known to drop latent political messages into his work and this particular story is purported to allegorise American’s postwar occupation of Japan.
Of course this will, and should, be lost on the younger audience but does offer food for thought on another level.
I find that few animated productions of this kind actually excite me very much, but I found this to be an exception. I must admit that some of the chase, and counter-chase, scenes actually had me holding my breath as I willed Whoville to a suitable sanctuary.
The speck’s charmed life is uncertain from gun to tape in this film, maybe a correlation to the fragility of our own planet?
There is a scene whereby Horton is roped and caged. Maybe, it’s because I was entranced by the story but I could imagine that this may be upsetting to very small children. This is just a note of caution, as such an affinity is built up with the character by this point that, although seemingly innocous taken out of context, it may have the potential to disturb.
Animation has come a hell of a long way in recent years, with some astoundingly like-like recreations by Pixar et al. The fact is that we take much of this medium for granted now and, thankfully to my mind, sheer dazzling graphics and carbon-copyist CGI are not enough on their own. As expectations increase, we now also demand a good story with sustenance. I feel that Horton Hears A Who combines both of these elements to wonderful effect. The voices are well delivered, although I’m not sure that the production would have suffered greatly without Jim Carrey. There are probably much cheaper, and possibly better, voice actors out there but I suppose the big names sell cinema seats and DVDs. I also feel that Will Arnett’s initial attempt at Vlad the Bad seems to curiously start out more Spanish before metamorphosing into the required Russian! But it would be churlish to split subjective hairs in an otherwise wonderful film. Oh just one thing, I was perplexed that Whoville erupted into a bizarre rendition of _I Can’t Fight this Feeling_ at the end. Surely a better choice would have been _Who Are You_ off _Whose Better , Whose Best_ by, who else, _The Who_ of course!
Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martini
Horton – Jim Carrey
Mayor – Steve Carell
Kangaroo – Carol Burnett
Vlad – Will Arnett
Morton – Seth Rogan
Yummo Wickersham – Dan Fogler
Dr. Mary Lou Larue – Isla Fisher
Rudy – Josh Flitter
Miss Yelp – Niecy Nash
JoJo – Jesse McCartney
Narrator – Charles Osgood
*This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS and on Dooyoo under ROGERTHEDODGER.