Saturday, March 15, 2008

From the Archive: "Horton Hears a Who" Film Review

Film Rating: B

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Horton Hears a Who.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Horton Hears a Who”
Originally published March 15th, 2008

I learned to read by pouring over the works of Dr. Seuss time and time again.  I’ve read all of his books, and loved each and every one of them.  I own lots of the TV specials on DVD, and cherish them.  But Hollywood has never gotten Seuss right on screen.  Ron Howard’s 2000 Grinch adaptation was fun and touching; I love that movie, but it’s not the book Seuss wrote.  If anything, it parodies the book multiple times.  And Mike Myer’s Cat in the Hat is one of the worst films to come out of Hollywood this decade.  Don’t even get me started…

Anyway, when I heard about an animated Horton adaptation, I was intrigued.  Animation, in my mind, is the only great medium for Seuss.  The trailers looked fairly good, and the reviews were positive.  My expectations weren’t necessarily high for this film, but I was hoping for the first great Seuss feature-film adaptation.  And surprise surprise…we got it!

For those of you living under a rock, the story follows Horton the elephant, who, one day, while enjoying the cool of the pool, hears a small noise.  He traces it to a tiny speck of dust, and find out it houses the city of Whoville, home of the Whos.  The other animals in the jungle of Nool think he’s crazy, but Horton is determined to find a safe spot for the Whos (should that have an apostrophe?  I have no idea…).  As Horton says, Even if you can’t see or hear them at all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.

It’s a simple, powerful message, like any Seuss book has.  And perhaps the best thing the film version does is present the message in a powerful way.  The best moment in the film comes when, near the end, chased by an angry mob, Horton lets himself be tied up because of his steadfast belief in the message. 

In fact, the entire adaptation is very strong.  The film doesn’t really add any new sequences; every scene is taken from the book.  But instead of adding far-fetched, ridiculous plots (Cat in the Hat) or doing an hours worth of back story, (Grinch) the filmmakers have opted to simply add loads of detail and expand upon each scene.  It works really, really well.  Humor is added in good doses; this is much more humorous then Seuss’ tale, but unlike Cat in the Hat, the humor fits the story very well, and makes the characters very endearing. 

The writers did a great job making the thin characters of the Seuss book into full fledged film incarnations, with the voice acting helping tremendously.  Horton himself is more of a goofball, but it makes him all the more lovable; he’s a character we can root for.  Jim Carrey, none other than the Grinch himself, portrays the elephant…and surprisingly, restrains himself a bit.  He’s not totally over the top, which I like.  This movie isn’t just a vehicle for his antics; instead, he’s just part of the ensemble, and does a very good job.

The mayor of Whoville is the film’s best character.  In the book, he only serves as the person who listens to Horton, but he’s a well developed character in the film.  Voiced fabulously by Steve Carrel, he’s also a bit of a goof; but at the same time, very endearing.  In creating two strong leads, the filmmakers add quite a bit of depth to both worlds; the jungle and Whoville.  The supporting cast is also very good; Carol Burnett is delightfully villainous as the kangaroo.  

The film is well paced, and never feels too long, like other Seuss adaptations.  Of course, the film is barely feature length; it runs about 75 minutes without the credits.  But it never overstays its welcome, and the overall feeling of the adaptation is like you’re simply watching the book crammed into a projector…with an equal measure of creativity thrown in.  The writers expand on small aspect; for instance, what happens to the Whos when Horton is tossing the speck around?  One of the film’s best sequences comes when Horton crosses a rickety bridge while the Mayor gets a root canal.

However, the best element of the film may be the gorgeous animation.  Instead of going for the uber-realistic look recent non-Pixar animated films have strived for, Horton brings us to a whole new world only CGI could realize.  It’s extremely alien, but charming and warm and friendly.  The best part is that every single pixel emanates the feeling of Seuss art.  All curvy lines, heavily stylized, with fur on everything.  It’s so cool to look at; it’s like if Seuss was an animation director in the digital age…this is what he’d do.

The level of detail is stunning; you can see every single strand of fur on everything that has fur.  Every branch and leaf in the forest is also full of detail, but they still keep it all in Seuss style.  It’s so incredibly fun to look at.  In fact, apart from Ratatouille, this is the coolest animation in a CGI film I’ve ever seen; it’s not the most realistic, but that’s not what animation for.  I’m not a big fan of CGI; it’s usually used in the wrong way, and so far, it’s only the Pixar films that have used the medium to its fullest.  But Horton can be added to the list.  It’s worth suffering through years of crud like Chicken Little, Shrek the Third, etc. to see the medium of CGI realize a great imagination like Dr. Seuss.

The top-notch adaptation, combined with excellent voice acting and unbelievable animation, all three in perfect Seuss style, make this the best Seuss adaptation to date.  It’s not perfect; the last joke of the movie, when the characters break into song, is really bad, and stops the film from getting an “A” grade.  But it channels the spirit of Seuss, which is what’s important.  This is the best non-Pixar animated film since….Ice Age?  Oh my…that movie came out six years ago today (March 15).

It’s sad how poor animated films are today, but Horton gives me a shread of hope.  Adults should enjoy it, kids should love it, and anyone who is a fan of Seuss should be in heaven.  I don’t usually say this about animated films nowadays, but please, go shell out your cash for this movie, so that the creators do another Seuss film.  In fact, if another Seuss film is ever done, I hope they give it to this creative team, because they have the rhythm down.

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