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Horton Hears a Who! (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/9/2008

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/18/2008

This may seem like blasphemy to some, but I've never been a big fan of Dr. Seuss. I know that most of my generation loves his books and sees them as touchstones of childhood, but I never saw the appeal. I can remember reading One Fish, Two Fish as a child and thinking, "Did my parents pay money for this?" Despite my ambivalence to his work, I have actually read most of his books and I'm familiar with the characters. Given that, I'm always interested in how filmmakers will take the simple text and create movies or shows from them. The latest offering, Horton Hears a Who!, actually transcends the source material, while retaining the important central theme.

Horton Hears a Who! introduces us to Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey), a kind and gentle elephant who lives in the Nool. He likes to teach the local kids and talk to his friend, Norton (voiced by Seth Rogen). One day, a tiny speck flies by Horton and he thinks that he hears a voice coming from it. Horton chases the speck and is able to capture it on a clover. Again, Horton is convinced that he hears a voice coming from the speck. Meanwhile, we learn that the town of Whoville is on the speck, and that the Mayor (voiced by Steve Carell) is having some problems. Despite the fact that he comes from a long line of mayors, the town council does not respect him. Even when he notices odd meteorological changes in the area, the council won't take him seriously. Then, using a series of gizmos, the Mayor is able to converse with Horton! Learning that there is indeed life on the speck, Horton decides to take it somewhere that it will be safe. But, jungle busy-body Kangaroo (voiced by Carol Burnett) disapproves of Horton's behavior and is convinced that he's a bad influence on the children. Thus, she not only encourages other to not believe Horton, but to try and stop him as well. Will Horton be able to protect the speck and therefore, the people of Whoville?

At 72-pages, Horton Hears a Who! is fairly long for a children's picture-book (and it certainly seems long when one is reading it aloud), but those responsible for the movie still faced a challenge in adapting it into a movie. With The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (which also starred Carrey), we learned that certain stories shouldn't be dragged out too far. Fortunately, Horton Hears a Who! never truly suffers from this. True, the movie does drag a big in the middle, and it's lacking in plot twists, but things also move along at a nice pace, even when the movie feels like it's repeating itself.

This is assisted by two primary factors. First, the story is simple and straight-forward. Too many family films today want to add layer-upon-layer to a story and tack on multiple finales (Yes, I'm looking at you, Pixar), but Horton Hears a Who! keeps things very simple. Horton must save the speck and the Mayor must save Whoville, and that's the basic premise. As noted above, there aren't many plot twists, which may disappoint adults, but children will love the fact that the movie picks a plotline and sticks to it. The other endearing factor in the film are the characters. Again, many movies want to present wacky and over-the-top characters which are meant to get our attention, but often become annoying. By, once again, keeping it simple, Horton Hears a Who! is able to offer fun characters who have personality, but are never overly complicated -- Horton is a nice guy, Kangaroo is a troublemaker, Morton is a good friend, etc. These archetypes are easily identifiable and save the film from being bogged down with too much character development.

One thing which I wasn't expecting from Horton Hears a Who! was the symbolism. I've seen The Chronicles of Narnia films and read about the religious symbolism there, but for me, it's something which isn't all that overt and could easily be overlooked if one didn't know to look for it. However, whether it was intentional or not, I felt that Horton Hears a Who! definitely had some serious overtones which could lead to a deep philosophical discussion amongst viewers. Not to get too deep, but we have Horton, who believes in something which no one else can see or hear. Kangaroo labels him a dangerous liar and encourages the other animals to hunt down and capture Horton. I normally don't look for this sort of thing, but I couldn't help but read the finale as a religious persecution. In the end, the movie has some very strong themes about faith and a post-movie chit-chat wouldn't be out of the question.

Deep meanings aside, Horton Hears a Who! is a beautifully animated and fun film. The look of the movie not only perfectly captures Seuss' artwork, but offers a rich 3-D world full of great colors. Carrey lends a ton (or two) of personality to Horton, but he never goes over the top. There are some truly funny moments here, as well as some poignant ones. While the slow mid-section keeps Horton Hears a Who! from being as good as Kung Fu Panda, it's still one of the best animated films of the year.

Horton Hears a Who! offers an awkward anime sequence on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The image is amazingly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are breathtaking and the crispness of the image gives it great depth. The picture is highly detailed and we can catch every subtle nuance of the animation. The image is never overly dark or bright and I noted no blurring of the animation. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good here, as we can hear every small noise in the jungle. The effects are nicely detailed and the stereo separation is great. The surround sound effects are good as well, especially in the scenes where Horton is running through the jungle. Speaking of Horton's running, unlike some family films, this one doesn't hold back on the subwoofer effects. In all, a nice Blu-ray package.

The Horton Hears a Who! Blu-ray Disc contains many extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Directors Jimmy Hayward and Steven Martino. This is a good chat as the two offer continuous scene-specific comments. They discuss the voice actors, the animation, and how ideas from the book were expanded. "Watch Horton Hears a Who! with a Who" offers a picture-in-picture feature where JoJo will appear on-screen to watch the film with you. He sits in a little chair and eats popcorn. "Deleted Footage" contains three sections. There are "Storyboard Versions" for nine scene. We get two scenes in "Rough Animation Versions". "Almost-Final Versions" has two scenes as well. "Animation Screen Tests" is introduced by Animator Nick Bruno and shows us several different tests for Horton, Mayor, and the Whos. Some of these are very detailed and some look like animatics. "Bringing the Characters to Life" (5 minutes) shows how the animators act out various facial expressions and movements in order to animate the characters. There are many side-by-side examples showing how this was done. "The Elephant in the Room: Jim Carrey" (5 minutes) has the actor discussing his character, while the directors talk about why Carrey was right for the part. "That's One Big Elephant: Animating Horton" (8 minutes) explores the work which went into creating the character, including pre-planning, animation tests, sculpted models, and then all of the computer work which goes into making Horton move. "Meet Katie" (4 minutes) introduces us to the odd character who shows up in the film from time-to-time. "Our Speck: Where do we Fit In?" (4 minutes) has a group of children talking about what they would like to see on their "speck". "Elephant Fun: The Facts" (5 minutes) is a brief documentary about real-life elephants. "A Person is a Person - A Universal Message" (4 minutes) has the cast and crew talking about the the important of the film's core theme. The filmmakers discuss how they approached the source material while wanting to be faithful to the book in "Bringing Seuss to Screen" (8 minutes). The final extra is "Surviving Sid" (8 minutes), featuring the sloth from Ice Age. This is pretty pedestrian stuff and the saving grace is an appearance by Scrat.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long