Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (***)
Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who! is such an effective, universal tale that it can be, and has been, spun any which way. Its tale of an elephant’s steadfast, verifiable belief in life on a tiny speck of dust (“A person’s a person, no matter how small” is the book’s famous moral) can be harnessed as allegorical propaganda for right or left, libertarianism or communism, god or science.
Some interpretations are more convincing than others (Seuss’s widow has asserted this litigiously with anti-abortionists) and, thankfully, the new CGI adaptation does it right. Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino’s film is about ontology (its beginning and end specifically suggest that it’s about extraterrestrial life), empathy, and the codependence of imagination and science. Its expanded handling of life in Who-ville—the town of Whos that exists on the speck of dust—is its most outstanding success. The mayor (Steve Carell) becomes a twin to Horton (Jim Carrey): an optimist and a dreamer swarmed by idiots and bureaucrats. The residents of Who-ville’s petty concerns about celebrating the Who Centennial mirror the denigration Horton suffers at the hands of his fellow animals (especially that of Sour Kangaroo, excellently delivered by Carol Burnett). Both characters depend on their peers’ faith—on convincing others that their fancy has a basis in reality—to succeed.
These ideas are not above kids’ heads, yet Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! doubts that at times, weakening itself with flashy, distracting business, such as a segment parodying animé, an ironic sing-a-long to “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and a clutch of cuter-than-cute characters not in the original story. This padding is a necessary evil, perhaps (it must have been hard to stretch out such a thin book to feature length), but it is an insult to Seuss’ respectful, humane view of children. If only Hayward and Martino had as much faith in their audience as Horton does in his speck of dust.
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! is now playing at Beach Cinemas (1651 Queen St. E.), Scotiabank Theatre Toronto (259 Richmond St. W.) and others.