Controversy isn’t a word usually connected to Dr. Suess, but recently when pro-life protestors disrupted the Los Angeles premier of Horton Hears a Who!, based on the 1954 book about an elephant who discovers life on a small speck of dust, it made headlines. Despite a cease and desist order from the author’s widow Audrey Geise, pro-lifers have long used Horton the elephant’s phrase “a life is a life no matter how small” as a slogan for their cause. The movie itself, however, is controversy free and sweet as a child’s lullaby.
The action begins when Horton, a kind but goofy elephant hears a cry of help coming from a speck of dust. It’s metaphysics for kids. Because of his giant ears he can communicate with the microscopic Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) when no one else can.
His jungle friends don’t believe him when he tells them of the tiny world on the dust fragment, but he is determined to take this speck, and the world contained within, to safety at the top of a high mountain. Working against him is the formidable Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) who refuses to believe in something that she is unable to see or hear. Horton never wavers in his belief or quest despite the efforts Sour Kangaroo to ridicule him.
During Dr. Suess’s lifetime he refused to allow his books to be adapted for the screen, and after viewing the shambolic Cat in the Hat and disappointing The Grinch Who Stole Christmas it’s not hard to see why. Third time around, though, we have a winner. Horton Hears a Who! is a charmer with an all star voice cast—Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Seth Rogen and Carol Burnett—and many sight gags that evoke the classic Looney Tunes cartoons. Based on the classic 72 page book, the paper thin story has been inventively stretched to a comfortable 88 minutes which only occasionally feels padded.
Like all Dr. Suess works, the plot is simple, but contains ideas that resonate well after the credits have rolled. Beyond the pratfalls and the goofy rhyming dialogue are strong messages for kids; that it’s important to be honest and respect other people, that one should always try to keep promises and that, above all, imagination is a good thing.
With Horton Hears A Who! filmmakers have finally gotten right and made an agreeably entertaining film from Dr. Suess source material which should amuse children and engage adults.