By Rene Rodriguez
After two excruciating live-action movies (How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat) bad enough to simultaneously sour children off movies and Dr. Seuss for life, the delightful Horton Hears a Who makes a convincing argument that any future Seuss adaptations should be the sole domain of CGI animators.
The movie pulls off the Pixaresque feat of consistently engaging and amusing children and grown-ups alike, without condescending to either one or resorting to low-brow pop-culture riffing, like the lazy Shrek pictures. The characters here at one point break out into a cover of an REO Speedwagon song, but the gag is funny, and it works.
Co-directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, working from a script by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, use an endless procession of gags, jokes and imaginative conceits (including a hilarious pen-and-ink sequence, animated in Pokemon style) to pad out Theodore Geisel’s slim but immortal 1954 tome, about an elephant (voiced by Jim Carrey) who discovers an entire world of so-tiny-they’re-invisible people living on a speck, into a feature-length film.
That tiny world, known as Whoville, has a mayor (Steve Carell) trying to convince his realm’s denizens they really are dust in the wind — and they’re about to be permanently squashed if Horton doesn’t find them a safe resting place. The movie alternates between the two protagonists’ worlds: Horton’s rainbow-colored jungle, which is lorded over by the imperious kangaroo (Carol Burnett) who sees imagination as evil, and the mayor’s Seussian city, where nothing has ever gone wrong, and the citizens live in blissful, dangerous ignorance about the perils facing them.
Horton Hears a Who wisely preserves most of Seuss’ verse in voiceover narration, but the main dialogue, while it doesn’t rhyme, preserves the author’s humanistic humor and whimsy. The lessons imparted by Horton Hears a Who may be elementary (”a person’s a person, no matter how small,” etc.) but the movie itself is top-notch, melding the talents of its impressive cast with a visual imagination that does the good doctor proud.