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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Horton Hears a Who!

Review by Drew Hunt

Jim Carrey had some bad luck the last time he decided to help update a classic children's story. His film Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas wasn't exactly a crowd-pleaser (and understandably so). Ditto for the 2003 Mike Meyers vehicle The Cat in the Hat, which featured Meyers quite creepily gallivanting about with an even creepier Dakota Fanning in the most subtle display of pedophilia ever captured in cinema.

But doubters of the newest Seuss adaption, Horton Hears a Who!, can rest easy, as this animated feature is far and away the best, and the closest to bringing the good Dr.'s message to life. And although Horton may be voiced by the same Carrey who gave the Grinch that dark edge, his talents as a voice-actor make this, ironically, his most pleasing performance in some years. That, coupled with a great cast of equally talented voice-actors and a genuinely comedic story to boot, Horton is a shining success and the first great animated film of 2008.

The film's story does not stray far from the original book: one day the lovable and loyal elephant Horton hears a tiny voice coming from a speck of dust floating in the air. With the imagination and the humility to believe there could be life on the speck, he eventually makes contact with the Mayor of the tiny universe within the spck, Who-Ville, which is subsequently inhabited with many happy, oblivious Who's. When he informs the skeptic and hostile animals of his discovery, his co-inhabitants of the Jungle of Nool, their unwavering disbelief and determination to destroy the spec causes Horton to protect it at all costs, because "a person is a person, no matter how small."

Understandably, the script needs a little extra meat to flesh out an entire story. Ken Daurio's and Cinco Paul's script uses assorted archetypes and subplots to keep up the pace and the fun, never letting any gaps fall through. They give a richer look into Horton's character by painting him as a young dreamer, and a teacher or sorts, playing leader to a small troupe of children (one of which is voiced by the sadly underused Jonah Hill.) He's a naturally generous soul, yet subsequently an outcast in his own home. His determination is a very tangible thing, even though he is obviously an elephant living in the same jungle as a kangaroo.

One of the film's biggest narrative changes comes in the transformation or Dr. Hoovey into the cheerful, desperately busy, increasingly addled Mayor of Who-ville, voiced refreshingly by Steve Carrel. The actor's talent of playing a manic personality seems tailor-made for the Mayors looming dilemma: nobody in the town believes him when he says certain doom and destruction is on the way, and the only thing keeping them alive is an invisible elephant in the sky. As you can probably imagine, he's yelling a lot. Another change comes in the character of JoJo, who in the original book was "very small shirker", but becomes the Mayors disenchanted and disengaged only son. His unwillingness to both speak and step in his fathers footsteps provides another rich subplot, and plays a crucial role in the films exciting climax. These new layers of character and theme work splendidly.

Then there's addition of new characters: Horton gains a friend in the cleverly named Morton, a small mouse voiced by Seth Rogen, who appears in his fifth animated film. Working with the opportunity to bring life to a brand new character, Rogen doesn't fail in giving him a voice all his own. Will Arnett plays the sadistic "black-bottomed eagle" named Vlad. Arnett uses his already adept skills as a voice-over actor to give his character an accent that could only be described as Russian meets frat boy. The two actors clearly made these characters their own, adding the G-rated aspects of their on-screen personalities to the film (and who knew there were any, right?)

Although the movies main theme of "A person is a person no matter how small" has been subject to many an interpretation (and sometimes in a tacky manner), the movie is very clear in its intentions. In a subtle yet effective way, the central message says simply that one should not be deaf to other people's realities, no matter how insignificant, or invisible, one may perceive them to be. In the end, it's a heartwarming and guileless experience for young audiences and their adult chaperons alike.

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