Who goes there?
HORTON HEARS A WHO! Directed by Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino. Voices of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Dan Fogler, Dane Cook, Will Arnett, Isela Fisher G cert, gen release, 88 min
EVEN A cursory consideration of the philosophical subtexts and political undercurrents of Horton Hears a Who! could well send thinking Dr Seuss enthusiasts right off their green eggs and ham.
As readers of the late doctor’s timeless book may recall, the plot concerns an elephant – or a Seussian variation on that creature – who appears to hear voices emanating from a speck of dust on a spherical plant. It transpires that this stray crumb houses a microscopic city. Those in Whoville who claim to hear Horton become the target of sniggers, while the optimistic elephant is treated as a raving lunatic by pinch-mouthed scolds led by a nameless female kangaroo.
Following the catastrophes that were The Grinch and The Cat in The Hat, Hollywood has, for the first time in decades, delivered a Seuss adaptation you might actually cross the road to see. Made by the same team that concocted the generally hopeless Ice Age films, the picture features glossy, rigid computer animation that, though true to the books’ surreal brilliance, is not nearly as warm as that in Chuck Jones’s lovely 1970 version of Horton.
That quibble noted, the picture must be adjudged a success. The writers have fleshed out the story with some slyly subversive jokes, and the voicework – Jim Carrey speaks for Horton while Steve Carell does the mayor of Whoville – is properly idiosyncratic without stooping to oral grandstanding.
Most importantly, the story’s head-spinning meditations on the state of nature, humanity and, well, Everything Else remain securely in place.
When the book was published in 1954, some readers detected an anti-McCarthyite tendency in the depiction of the intransigent kangaroo. More recently, Seuss’s estate felt compelled to send pro-life groups angry letters complaining about misuse of the text’s key phrase “a person’s a person, no matter how small”. Viewed in 2007, the kangaroo’s bald claim that “if you can’t hear it or see it, it doesn’t exist” lends the smug marsupial a flavour of Richard Dawkins.
We could also mention the way the central premise nods towards the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, but, for fear of permanent induction into pseuds’ corner, we will, perhaps, discretely edge that theory aside and note that this Horton is the best family film of the season.
An ear in the life: Horton Hears a Who!