Horton Hears a Who!
First reaction: Why does everything have to be so friggin’ huge these days? The great Chuck Jones did this in 1970, staying exactly with the Dr. Seuss story, narrated by the great Hans Conried, and it is a classic. But it’s 2008, this is CGI animation, and it has megastars Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell. Naturally, it’s all over the place, full of frantic action, cute references, new characters, new sub-plots, and many, many changes from the original.
Second reaction: It ain’t all that bad, for what it is.
I should tell you, I’m a giant Dr. Seuss fan. They were some of the first books I ever read, and I read all of them, a thousand times, had them virtually memorized. (I was too old for his later, very young person books, like Green Eggs and Ham.) My favorites were the ones that didn’t really have a story at all, just one fantastic thing after another, all drawn in that amazing, droopy, flamboyant Seuss style, books like McElligot’s Pool, If I Ran the Circus, Scrambled Eggs Super, and On Beyond Zebra. I liked Horton, and Bartholomew Cubbins, but it was the crazy world of these other books that drew me. That, and the catchy little rhymes.
Some of the trademark anapestic tetrameter is preserved here, read by Charles Osgood, of all people, but most of the story is dialogue. So there’s no way you can say this is faithful for the book, at least not in terms of story (though the basic plot remains), but where it shines is in capturing the art of Seuss. Whoville in particular is a delight, the Jungle of Nool a little less so, but still good. Carol Burnett is great as the Sour Kangaroo (named Jane here, for some reason). I didn’t mind that her joey was a larger character, and a pivotal one, in this version of the story. (You may recall, if you are a Seussian like me, that every time the Sour Kangaroo expressed an opinion, the next line would be “And the small kangaroo in her pouch said “Me, too!”) And it was inevitable that the who kid, Jojo, who was a “shirker” in the book, and only let out with his world-saving “YOP!” when the mayor of Whoville grabbed him and gave him a bit of a belt, would now be the Mayor’s only son, misunderstood, but able to save the day. Oh, well. Could have been much worse, as in The Cat in the Hat, which Audrey Geisel wished she’d never authorized.
(P.S. Everybody pronounces it “Soose,” but it’s actually “Zoice.” Too late for me to change, though. He’ll always be Soose to me.)