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Horton’ Brings Seuss Into the 21st Century

By Rachel Adams

Pixar has spoiled us. Hey, we all loved Disney, but as the new gold standard of children’s movies, Pixar has raised the bar. Nowadays adults go to the movies with their children fully expecting to enjoy the film. Apparently, children’s fare is kosher now.

Well, this ain’t Pixar, kids, it’s 20th Century Fox animation. “Horton” is no doubt pretty and imaginative, but whenever it departs from the original tale, it begins to falter. All the same, it’s the best Seuss adaptation we’ve seen in a long while.

Horton the Elephant (Jim Carrey) is a well-meaning but somewhat bumbling and absent-minded character (a running joke that is made much of throughout the film) who happens to hear a sound like a tiny cry for help coming from a passing clover flower. Convinced that there is a tiny family on a dust mote on the flower, he determines to protect it at all costs. Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), the nosy, self-proclaimed head of the jungle-neighborhood, is convinced that he’s crazy and tries to protect the children from the dangers of imagining things, first by hiring a hit-man and then by rallying a mob (take note, Chris Buttars: Even the relatively benevolent children’s-movie mob out-scares your imaginary one).

Dr. Seuss’ world translates well to CG animation. The creative creatures and off-kilter trees and background look even more magical and interesting in 3-D. The plot wouldn’t have felt thinly stretched in feature film format if the writers hadn’t been so clearly trying to fill the time.

The initial side plot of Horton and his little jungle students was too simplistic to stand on its own (not to mention too close to “Finding Nemo” for comfort). The first half-hour of the movie consisted of Carrey going all-out goofball to try and spice up the somewhat boring dialog, and the script trying to spice itself up with incongruent jokes and gags — such as a psuedo-ninja sequence done in mock-anime — was amusing but completely out of place. The entire thing comes off as a cheap attempt to keep the ADD-generation looking at the screen, but it backfires.

When the story turned to the Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) and his family, the film really took off. Carell’s genius lies in turning the straight man into a comedy gold mine, and he did that flawlessly here, giving the mayor the credibility of a three-dimensional character while utilizing perfect timing and mild self-deprecation to keep the audience rolling in the aisles. The father-who-wants-his-son-to-be-just-like-him bit is nothing new, but it fits well in this charming little tale about achieving great things within your sphere of influence, “no matter how small.”

The adventure scenes are designed for laughs, not scares. Anything potentially frightening is tempered with humor (evil vulture chokes on a bone, angry mob suffers from temporary amnesia about their purpose, etc.). The only really frightening thing is a little puff-ball of a girl student whose vacant eyes and gaping yawn-noise send shivers down my spine. I recommend covering your children’s eyes whenever she’s on screen (or your own eyes, really).

Inspirational, humorous and enjoyable to look at, I’d recommend “Horton Hears a Who!” to any of my young friends. I might stop at recommending it to serious or cynical moviegoers, but I tend to consider myself both, and I have to admit that I laughed out loud several times and nearly — nearly — teared up toward the end when the Whos are trying to make themselves heard.

So if you see it in theaters, I won’t laugh at you. You don’t even have to pretend that it was really your niece who wanted to go.

“Horton Hears a Who!”Blue Sky StudiosScreenplay by Ken Daurio and Cinco PaulBased on the book by Dr. SeussDirected by Jimmy Hayward and Steve MartinoStarring Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett and Seth RogenRated G/88 min.Three out of four stars

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