Dr. Seuss hasn’t fared very well in movies recently. The last two movies based on Dr. Seuss works (How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat) weren’t very good, and failed to capture the unique charm and humor of the source works. Horton still isn’t there yet, but it comes a whole lot closer than the previous films did. All in all, it’s not spectacular, but it’s good film to watch with the whole family.
Horton the elephant hears a voice from a tiny speck. It turns out that the little town of Whoville and its residents, the Whos, all live on that little speck. Horton manages to communicate with the mayor of Whoville, who is just coming to grips with learning of a greater world out there. Horton has to travel to find a place where the speck and the residents will be safe, but the domineering busybody Sour Kangaroo is convinced that Horton’s making everything up, and encouraging the kids to live in a fantasy world. While the mayor of Whoville tries to keep it together, Horton must deal with trial after trial in larger world outside.
The main elements of the Dr. Seuss story are left intact, and the strength of its themes shine through. This is classic stuff we’re dealing with, and the story remains as lovely as the first day it was printed. The problem is that Seuss stories are usually really short, and stretching it out into a feature calls for a lot of filler. Thankfully, a lot of the stuff they added is actually pretty good and sort of amusing. There are a couple scenes here and there that feel mostly out of place, falling back on the oft-used well of pop culture references and random humor. This is where the film falters a bit, as these scenes make us drift away from the Seussiness of the entire thing, and the film becomes a bit more generic. Overall, though, the film works enough, and kids will certainly enjoy it.
The animation in the film is pretty good, but it’s not Pixar good. It almost feels unfair to say that nowadays, but it’s true. Pixar has set the bar for animation so high that everything else just sort of pales in comparison. The film triumphs, however, in its character designs. They wisely made the choice of sticking closely to the original Seuss designs, and these wonderful, expressive creatures really shine on screen. The film is pretty chaotic at times, with some sequences that are actually a little hard to follow, but it’s all generally well-made.
People will go back and forth on celebrity voice performances. Opponents of using big names in voice roles claim that having recognizable voices is distracting, and they have a point. In this film, the voice of Jim Carrey is pretty unavoidably distracting, but really, it’s hard to argue against the performance he gives, which is pretty fun and energetic. Matching his energy is Steve Carrell as the Mayor of Whoville. The rest of the voice cast is made up of some comedy’s best performers, including legendary Carol Burnett. They all give their best, and we can’t really ask for more.
Horton isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly the best Dr. Seuss adaptation in recent memory. I know that isn’t saying much, given the quality of the previous two films, but really, the film takes the right steps towards doing justice to the genius of Seuss. At the very least, it’s a film that kids will enjoy, full of frenetic energy and fast, fun laughs.