Thursday, March 20, 2008

Horton Hears a Who

Bringing a Dr. Seuss book to the screen is a difficult process. Much of their charm came from the delightful illustrations and more came from the rhyming prose. Seriously...would Green Eggs and Ham have sold even a single copy without the rhyming, lyrical nature? Would Hop on Pop get reprint after reprint without those awesome illustrations? I lean pretty heavily towards no. And bringing Horton Hears a Who (2008) to the screen was made even harder by having Jim Carrey voice not just a character but the main character, the title character Horton.

Carrey has, from time to time, turned in enjoyable efforts. Idiotic premise aside, Liar, Liar (1997) was actually enjoyable. Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) was decent as well and there were moments of Me, Myself and Irene (2000) that were inspired enough to overcome the insipid, vapid majority of the film. But overall to like a Jim Carrey movie you have to be into overacting, bizarre physical movements as comedy, and thinking shouting is funny.

Fortunately, the casting director realized this and to get away from the "it is funny because the actor is shouting" model they brought in Carol Burnett to play Kangaroo. (For those who never saw the Carol Burnett show...well, basically the joke was her shouting. No, not a typo...THE joke...there was really only one joke in the entire show run and that was her shouting. If you think people shouting is funny, go get a hold of the Carol Burnett Show. On the other hand, if you don't consider that a may not be your thing.)

As it turns out...Carrey may have found his niche. His voice characterization was awesome, the animated antics of the elephant were fitting and he was perfect for the part. His voice added to the role without becoming a distraction. In fact, the entire cast seemed to hit their notes perfectly.

Will Arnett, famed for his role as the inept, bungling magician scam artist brother on Arrested Development, provides an awesome characterization for the villainous Vlad. His sibilant, accented voice deepened the character.

On top of that, the animation was brilliant. It had that distinctive Dr. Seuss look and feel with bright primary colors, recognizable Seuss characters and bizarre contraptions/conventions. The story...well, the story is what it is, a delightful bit of childhood whimsy with some interesting digs at home schooling parents and atheists that will sail right over the head of kids but might smack the adults.

I went in with very low expectations and instead found a well executed bit of cinema. It was swamped in allusions to pop culture media ("Keep watching the skies!" was one of the most obvious but hardly the only example). The weaknesses of some of the actors were turned into strengths or else outright ignored and their strengths were amplified. The Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carrell) was a perfect vehicle for the low-key aw-shucks who, me? persona Carrell has perfected, for example.

In all it was a surprisingly strong outing in taking a difficult project and turning it into a delightful feast for the eyes of the animation enthusiast, a nice, good-natured morality tale for that parent set, and a nice foray into Suessland for the nostalgic adult.

1 comment:

JLee said...

I thought this was pretty cute and the animation was fantastic.