[Screen It]


(2008) (voices of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell) (G)

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Animated Comedy: Despite no one believing him, a jungle elephant does what he can to protect the inhabitants of a tiny world that exists as a speck sitting on a piece of clover.
In the jungle of Nool, Horton (voice of JIM CARREY) is a likable elephant who enjoys hanging out with his friends, including Morton (voice of SETH ROGEN), Tommy (voice of JONAH HILL) and little Katie (voice of JOEY KING). One day while frolicking in the river, Horton thinks he hears a voice coming from a little speck that floats by him in the air.

While no one believes his claim -- especially the mother Kangaroo (voice of CAROL BURNETT) who doesn't want the elephant stirring up any sort of make-believe commotion among the kids -- Horton takes it upon himself to protect the speck. With it landing on a piece of clover, the elephant tries his hardest to communicate with whatever or whoever might be on it.

Little does he realize the latter is more accurate as the speck is really a world that contains a town -- Whoville -- comprised of various Whos. They're blissfully unaware that they're so small in such a big world, and are planning on celebrating their centennial. The only doubter is Mayor O'Malley (voice of STEVE CARELL) who, with wife Sally (voice of AMY POEHLER), is a parent to 97 kids, all of them girls except for JoJo (voice of JESSE McCARTNEY) who keeps to himself and never speaks.

The Mayor realizes something odd is happening to their world, but the Chairman (voice of Dan Fogler) and the rest of the council don't believe him, and certainly don't want him rocking the boat. Yet, when he finally makes contact with Horton, he knows he isn't crazy. The same holds true for the elephant, although the fact that he's the only one who can hear the Whos means that the Kangaroo will do anything to quiet him, including hiring hit-eagle Vlad (voice of WILL ARNETT) to get and dispose of the piece of clover and the speck on it.

From that point on, Horton and the Mayor do what they can to get the rest to believe them, all as others try to put them in their place, actions that will ultimately threaten all of Whoville.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Jim Croce may have once sung "You don't mess around Jim," but everyone knows that the one thing you shouldn't mess around with is beloved material that's long implanted on the human psyche. Basically, that means religious teachings and related material, as well as children's stories, both of which are ingrained in the hearts, souls and minds of kids via repetition.

Thus, when it became public knowledge that there was going to be a live-action remake of Dr. Seuss' dearly loved "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (the 1957 short story and the 1966 animated version having pretty much melded together in public perception), fans were not pleased.

That was only reinforced after it was seen that the title character was as much a product of Jim Carrey as it was Seuss. Of course, that 2000 film made a lot of money, which resulted in the 2003 release of "The Cat in the Hat," another live-action flick (starring Mike Myers) that was reviled even more than its predecessor.

Accordingly, when people heard that Carrey was doing the Seuss thing once more with "Horton Hears a Who," the steam from ears quotient must have risen significantly among the works' fans. After all, how would the relatively svelte actor play the part of an elephant, no matter the extraordinary degree of his limberness and rubbery facial expressions.

The answer is that Carrey simply voices the title character in what turns out to be a computer-animated version of the classic Seuss short. And while things may have been expanded upon and a fair amount of filler added (including a sore thumb bit of two-dimensional anime that unexpectedly shows up in a fantasy sequence for no apparent reason other than an additional bit of padding), the story pretty much follows the story outline of the written tale (the animated 1970 TV version never gained the perennial traction of "The Grinch" and thus doesn't register in my memory regarding its degree of faithfulness to the original work).

The good news is that while the offering might not be an instant classic like Chuck Jones' Grinch cartoon from so long ago, it's undeniably entertaining and surprisingly emotionally powerful at the end. And for those concerned about Carrey imparting too much of his persona into the part, some of that's present, but certainly not enough to disrupt the proceedings or one's enjoyment of them.

Despite not quite being up to par with the excellent work of the Pixar films in such regards (which also holds true for other work from Blue Sky Studios, including the "Ice Age" flicks), part of the fun comes from the smaller details rather than the main plot and characters. And much of that concerns the very Seussian creations found in Whoville (yes, the home of Cindy Lou Who, although she's nowhere to be seen, which also holds true for her green ogre nemesis -- and no, I'm not talking about Shrek). Various asides, quick reactions, and minute comedic detail yield some of the most satisfying moments that the film has to offer.

That goes a long way in making this obviously child-oriented offering palatable to adults who will also like the film's core message (any person, no matter how small, is still a person) and various moments of comedy-based action and suspense. Tech credits are top-notch all around, with the film purposefully not going for the near photo realistic look found in many of its big-budget competitors.

Vocal work is also good, with Carrey (when not going off on some tangent) coming off well as the caring elephant and Steve Carell being pitch perfect as the mayor of the small town who, like his pachydermous counterpart, must contend with no one believing him about the existence of others not their size.

Unfortunately, the vocally dexterous Carol Burnett is hemmed in too much playing the story's lead villain (the self-appointed animal sheriff, if you will, of the jungle), but Will Arnett shines as Vlad, the wannabe avian hitman. Newsman Charles Osgood delivers the proper tone as the film's occasional narrator (which is when most of the Seuss sounding verbiage is heard), but various other name performers (Amy Poehler, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, etc.) can't do much with their vocal parts as written.

While not exactly falling into the instant classic category, "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who" is an often delightful, fairly entertaining, and a fun little diversion that should entertain audiences of all ages. It rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 8, 2008 / Posted March 14, 2008

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