A story of Horton, and people called Who — but how many movies? It seems to be two! There’s one that’s quite Seussical, gentle and charming. The other stars Jim Carrey, brash and alarming! What auds will attend? Who has what it takes? Wee innocent children — and moms with headaches!
Helmed by Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, this large-scale, big-effects animated take on the 1954 Dr. Seuss tale “Horton Hears a Who!” (directed by Chuck Jones for TV in 1970) really does have a split personality. When Charles Osgood is narrating the very simple tale of the elephant with a big heart and big ears — Horton can hear the tiny inhabitants of Whoville, whose miniature world is in peril — the story is quite innocent and child-friendly. Elsewhere, not so much.
The problem is, the beloved Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel) didn’t write movie-size stories — his best-known cartoon adaptation, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” had to be padded and scored just to supply a half-hour of television. In the case of the new “Horton,” it has fallen to scribes Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (“College Road Trip”) to, shall we say, accessorize the good doctor. What we get is action for action’s sake, cartoon violence and a whole lot of hubbub.
Despite the movie’s motto — “A person’s a person, no matter how small” (Geisel once sued a pro-life group to stop them from using it) — the film apparently needed such “comedy giants” (Fox’s words) as Carrey, Steve Carell and Carol Burnett to do it justice. This is a touchy issue, and not just for the hundreds of vocal talents left unemployed by the craze for celebrity voiceovers; it’s unclear whether such names really mean much in the way of B.O. for animated films. And while someone like Jerry Seinfeld was probably indispensable to “Bee Movie,” it’s hard to say what exactly Carrey, Carell and Burnett bring to “Horton.”
The real stars of the movie are the animators, who imbue even the overgrowth in Horton’s jungle with a certain floppy Seuss-ishness. When the apelike Wickersham brothers are firing bananas out of their armpits, the film attains Tex Avery-grade nuttiness. The visual gags are mostly just great, great fun.
A couple of the non-Seuss lines, too, are near-classic (“You take care of that meatball, sir,” Carrey’s Horton tells Carell’s mayor of Whoville, “and leave the freakin’ out to me.”) But the drive to overdo almost everything in the film only emphasizes how thinly stretched the story is, and how movies almost always resort to violence and violent action when no one knows what else to do.
Every time Osgood weighs back in with a few lines of Seuss (and not even all of the original “Horton” is used here), it imposes a sort of cultural whiplash.
Pic’s producers seem to have been trying to make Carrey’s “Aladdin,” hoping that his manic delivery, like Robin Williams’ in that 1992 Disney film, would be so in synch with the animation that it would lift auds right out of their seats. Not quite the case.
No elevating moments, but a few of pure mirth: “In my world,” says one of the film’s furry woodland creatures, “everybody’s a pony, they eat rainbows and poop butterflies … ” Now that would be something to see.