My apologies to anyone who’s tired of hearing about the cinematic voyages of my four-year old son, but when it comes to a film like ‘Horton Hears a Who,’ I could hardly overlook the fact that a member of its target audience is currently residing in my house. Suffice to say, he adored every minute of it. Adapted from a Dr. Seuss children’s story of the same name by the folks responsible for the ‘Ice Age’ series, ‘Horton Hears a Who’ doesn’t have the multi-generational appeal of the latest-and-greatest Pixar insta-classic, but it will leave your kids in a state of wide-eyed wonder and seat-hopping joy.
When a reluctant elephant named Horton (Jim Carrey) discovers an entire civilization of creatures living on a single speck of dust nestled on a flower in his possession, he becomes determined to protect his new-found “Whos” at all cost. Talking directly with the Mayor of the Whos (Steve Carell) — a decent family man whose wife (Amy Poehler), ninety-six daughters (all voiced by Selena Gomez), and lone son, JoJo (Jesse McCartney), are ridiculed by their brethren when the Mayor explains the nature and danger of their true existence — Horton decides to deliver the flower to a more stable resting place atop Mt. Hool. However, when an irritable Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) refuses to believe the elephant’s story, she acquires the help of a menacing vulture (Will Arnett) and riles up the other animals in the jungle in an attempt to stop Horton and destroy the flower.
’Horton Hears a Who’ doesn’t rely on dual-audience punchlines… it doesn’t even attempt to barrage its adult viewers with cleverly camouflaged gags or meticulously-mapped developments. It focuses squarely on the kiddies, using mild physical comedy, crystal-clear subplots, and endearing characters to deliver a singular message about faith and belief. Admittedly, the G-rated film treads familiar ground that won’t teach older children anything dozens of other flicks haven’t already reinforced countless times before, but it does so with such an infectious whimsy that its thematic unoriginality is easily forgiven.
That’s not to say the entire film plays like a childhood rerun. Seemingly drizzled off a painter’s brush with a decided respect for the original story’s artwork, the Blue Sky Studios CG animation is simplistic but unique — a fanciful daydream that brings together expressive characters, bizarre environments, and graceful motion in a cohesive, eye-pleasing whole. The voice work rises to the occasion as well, relying on the talented efforts of a who’s who of comedy stars from television and film. Exchanging edgier material for charming interactions and surface-level humor isn’t an easy task, but Carrey, Carell, and the supporting cast members never phone in their lines or toss out anything that doesn’t have real feeling behind it.
I can’t say I would have enjoyed ‘Horton Hears a Who’ as much without a bouncing little boy clutching onto my arm, but I also didn’t find myself glancing at the clock or longing for the credits to roll. ‘Horton’ is a light-hearted throwback to an animated era of uncomplicated storytelling and decipherable morals, a feel-good family comedy that breezes along with sincerity and emotional authenticity. I imagine your family — unless its ranks are filled with cynics, young and old — will enjoy this one as much as mine did.