Well, what have we here? Another Dr. Seuss adaptation? Uh-oh, this could be bad. Even the mighty Mike Myers fell flat on his face with the grand master of children's literature, and that was when he was at the height of his powers. So have the guys at Fox managed to achieve the impossible and drag Dr. Seuss kicking and screaming onto the big screen? I'm happy to report that Horton Hears a Who is a decent attempt at capturing the giddy craziness and deeply resonant moralism built into these kids' cult classics.
First off, animation was definitely the right choice. There was a little bit of original illustration included at the start as an indicator that we weren't to deviate too far in style and, with the exception of a weird but nonetheless witty parody of the glut of anime-style cartoons gracing kids' TV nowadays, it largely stayed visually close to the original stylings. And with these tales keeping the style is half the battle, not to mention a great bonus for the target audience who more than deserve a dose of the luxuriously off-the-wall imagery that populates the tale.
The plot itself is a simple one: friendly elephant Horton (Jim Carrey) lives a carefree life in the jungle, until one day he hears a cry for help coming from a tiny speck floating by on the breeze. Troubled, he chases the speck and tries to find out what could have made the noise. It turns out that this speck is home to the happy town of Whoville run by the madcap mayor (Steve Carell) who is somewhat surprised to learn that his town is on a speck floating through a jungle and enlists the help of Horton to find a safe place for Whoville to be installed in order to avoid potential peril. Sadly Horton faces a series of obstacles to achieve his noble aim, not least the incredulity of his fellow jungle-dwellers, including a particularly sour kangaroo (Carol Burnett) and a crazy vulture named Vlad. Of course the film had to extent the original tale significantly. This resulted in bouts of predictably humdrum family film filler, and although they didn't do too much harm they added very little. The one saving grace found within the extension was the extra time awarded to kooky little critters, in particularly one strange little furball who comes out with cracking lines such as "In my world everybody's a pony, they eat rainbows and poop butterflies". Classic.
The enjoyment factor for young children should be pretty high: great visuals, much silliness and few really scary moments make Horton a film that ticks all the boxes for young audiences. The attempts to engage the adults aren't quite on the same level, there is a lot of expanded contemporary social criticism to be read into the moral ("a person's a person no matter how small") and this is supplemented by bland stereotypes of manic right-wing jungle parents and disbelieving townsfolk, but this is a little unsubtle for my tastes and is unlikely to bring much joy to parents no matter how politicised. There are also a few template characters brought in from the wider film community which add little to the feel of the film; I was particularly irked by the son of the Mayor of Whoville who was just a cartoon replica of Dwayne from Little Miss Sunshine. Nonetheless, the film as a whole is a great conversion of a classic kids' tale with superb voice acting, plenty of quirks and the tone of the original pretty much kept intact.