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Dr Suess: Horton Hears A Who

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Jacqueline Monahan

Dr. Suess: Horton Hears A Who

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The jungle of Nool is a colorful, peaceful paradise of co-existence – or is it? Evidently, the very human traits of intolerance and closed-mindedness can infiltrate all creatures great and small. Thank goodness for those with integrity and heart.

When kindly, oversized Horton, (Jim Carrey) an elephant with exceptionally large ears, happens to hear a sound from a speck on a clover, he discovers the microscopic world of Whoville, complete with libraries, parks, and even pompous civil servants. Horton is not cursed with intolerance, and immediately sets out to assist the tiny world.

Nool is also inhabited by a cranky Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) who is unreasonably intolerant of others. If something sounds the tiniest bit odd, (and Whoville is tiny) it must be subject to ridicule, suspicion, and eventual destruction. After all, the jungle is a wild and crazy place, which is why her son is “pouch-schooled.” The apes agree, and so does Vlad, (Will Arnett) the resident vulture-for-hire. All conspire to rid Horton and the jungle of the clover with the itty-bitty world on it. – an illustration about how eccentrics are viewed by the so-called “normal” world.

The Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) has a wife, Sally, (Amy Poehler) and a very large family - 96 daughters and one son, the sullen, standoffish Jojo (Jesse McCartney) – very serious and misunderstood. Look for green eggs & ham at the mayor’s house, which also has only one bathroom. No wonder Jojo’s sullen.

Horton’s microscopic and microcosmic universe may very well be done away with if the disbelievers have their way. How can Horton get them to hear what he hears? How can the Mayor get his constituency to believe in the very big and perilous world outside of Whoville?

Horton must cross a rickety rope bridge, good for many minutes of suspense and visual calisthenics. The turbulence of his footsteps causes thunderous disruptions in Whoville and the wild weather discrepancies are good for all kinds of sight gags. One clever scene has the mayor visiting a dentist when one such tremor hits, receiving a Novocain shot in the arm instead of his mouth. The resulting numbness in the slack arm is put to good use as the Mayor runs his uncooperative limb through hallways and streets. Bystanders beware.

The extremely loyal pachyderm adheres to his mission of finding a safe place for his new friends. Meanwhile Kangaroo plots and rallies the jungle’s inhabitants against Horton. When Vlad the vulture kidnaps the clover and drops it into a field of similar plants, Horton patiently listens to thousands of the blossoms before finding his speck again. Wouldn’t the clover have been safer in the massive, anonymous field? I wondered. Intrepid Horton will not abandon his charge. “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful one hundred percent,” is one of his favorite refrains.

His pal, Morton, (Seth Rogen) is a mouse informant, warning Horton of impending danger. These two form an unlikely alliance – not surprising due to the open-minded and kindhearted nature of our hero. He’s a gentle giant with a heart bigger than his body, yet Kangaroo convinces the apes and most of the jungle that he’s a dangerous fanatic, delusional, and a bad influence on the children. After all, one looks more normal by pointing out others who are not, those square pegs once tolerated are now to be made to conform – or else.

Writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (College Road Trip) stick to the text in most cases, adding mild jokes and updated humor in others. The film’s narrator, CBS News Sunday Morning anchor Charles Osgood, (three Emmys, three Peabody awards) is a good choice to guide us through these two diverse ecosystems full of animals and Whos as the very voice of integrity.

Directors Jimmy Hayward (animator, Finding Nemo) and Steve Martino (Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail) retain the familiar images and elicit the spirit of the original work. The recognition factor is high and the viewer has multiple occasions to exclaim, I know you! I know you! You’ll find the buildings of Whoville full of curves and towers, the inhabitants’ hairstyles ranging from roller-coaster ponytails, to preposterous pompadours to gelled stalks that would make even the Gotti boys envious. It’s a sweet way to revisit the familiar book although by necessity there are a lot of stretched and extrapolated scenes to make the film feature length (this one’s 88 minutes).

Jim Carrey is refreshingly restrained at the gentle Horton with a whispery tenor. Carell is endearingly befuddled and hyperactive as the Mayor. Carol Burnett can purr in a menacing way, totally out of character for the comedy queen, but effective for the Kangaroo court she convenes in the jungle. Seth Rogen pumps a large voice into a tiny mouse as Horton’s vehement pal.

Friendship, loyalty, integrity, faith, and the sanctity of life, are all represented in this tale based on the simple premise of keeping one’s word. In the world of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a big heart is valued, no mater where you find it. As Horton is so fond of saying, “Even though you can't hear or see them at all. A person is a person, no matter how small.” Apparently that applies to our animal friends at the other end of the size spectrum as well.

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