Dr. Seuss would be disappointed by this 'Horton'

Posted: March 14, 2008

Hollywood believes that any verse bearing the marketable Seuss brand warrants big-screen treatment: A poem is a movie, no matter how small.

And so arrives "Horton Hears A Who," a big-budget, 3D-animated take on Dr. Seuss' concise story of a sensitive elephant whose big ears detect signs of life on the tiniest speck of dust.

Animals who can't hear the bustle of microscopic life regard Horton (Jim Carrey) as a dangerous outcast. In time, he must protect the speck from animals bent on destroying it.

Meanwhile, down in dustspeck town of Whoville, the mayor (Steve Carell) is the only one who hears the voice of the elephant, so impossibly large as to be invisible. He tries to pass along Horton's warning of an uncertain future without sounding delusional.

"Horton Hears a Who" is famously a story about the responsibility of the big to protect the small, and the responsibility of the small to speak up. But it resonates with children because of its more complex ideas of scale and perspective: It asks children to consider worlds larger and smaller than the one in front of them.

There are flickering moments of inspiration when "Horton" finds amusing ways to illustrate these ideas - Horton demonstrates the vulnerability of the dustspeck world by repeatedly placing it in and out of the shade, as hundreds of Whos put on and remove sunglasses.

Trimmed and condensed to a succession of these moments, "Horton" would be a very nice half-hour TV show - and it was, back in 1970, when Chuck Jones made a 2D-animated version of the Seuss classic.

Stretched to 85 minutes and padded with action, the story often loses focus and resonance, and seems crammed with modernized material, as if Seuss' themes were insufficient.

The movie plays around with environmental ideas - the mayor is a microscopic Al Gore, desperately trying to find ways to explain an invisible threat to a disbelieving public.

Meanwhile, in Horton's world, a benighted conservative kangaroo (she homeschools her kid) brands Horton a heretic, citing his corrupting influence on "the children," and seeks that dustspeck boiled in beezlenut oil.

It's a little busy. Still, it's hard to ruin Seuss' big payoff, when the overlooked people of Whoville make themselves heard by shouting, in unison, "We are here." *

Produced by bob Gordon, Bruce Anderson; directed by Jimmy Hayward, Steven Martino; written by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio; distributed by 20th Century Fox.

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