Heroic 'Horton'

At long last, Hollywood has made a worthy Dr. Seuss movie

Hollywood finally gives Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) his due with the delightful Horton Hears a Who!, the first big-budget movie that manages to capture the beloved author's wacky yet somehow spiritual vibe. These filmmakers had the brains to accept that Seuss belongs in a cartoon world, not a world with comedians covered in heavy prosthetics.

Jim Carrey, who did his best in the so-so Seuss adaptation How the Grinch Stole Christmas, has some splendid vocal fun as Horton, the big-hearted elephant who swears he can hear voices coming from a floating dust speck. Indeed, he does, for the dust speck is actually a planet containing Whoville. The speck winds up on a piece of clover, and Horton vows to protect it.

While going through his workday in preparation for Whoville's centennial celebration, the mayor (a hilarious Steve Carell) hears Horton calling to him, and the two become friends. Members of Horton's jungle universe--including Carol Burnett as an annoyed kangaroo--become enraged with the elephant, who they feel is corrupting the minds of their children with his stories of universes beyond their own. They plot to capture the dust speck and imprison Horton.

Underneath all of the cartoon fun is a sweet message about tolerance, open-mindedness and the possibility that we are not alone. Directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino aren't afraid to occasionally go insane. At one point, the animation drifts into Pokémon parody, and they actually find a way to incorporate REO Speedwagon into the proceedings. It all adds to the "anything goes" spirit of the film. This is the rare cartoon that will please the kids and adults, and leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling in addition to being sufficiently amused.

The source material is rather short, but the movie didn't strain to fill its feature-length running time. Among the best sequences are Horton crossing a long rope bridge à la Indiana Jones, and one in which Horton chases Vlad the Vulture (voiced by Will Arnett) as he flies away with the speck. The chase includes a large elephant climbing a sheer cliff, which is almost rendered believable by the animation.

Carrey, stripped of his physical attributes, delivers a soft, sweet and only sporadically crazy performance as Horton. He gets the chance to riff a bit--turning in a nice Henry Kissinger impersonation--but, for the most part, he stays within the confines of his gentle character. Carell is perfect as the mayor, able to go from calm to panicky with the push of a button.

Other voices you'll hear include Arnett's wife, Amy Poehler, as the mayor's wife; Isla Fisher as a cynical doctor; and Judd Apatow-factory workers Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen as two of Horton's jungle friends. Rogen is especially good as a blue little mouse with a brain bigger than Horton's.

This film is welcome relief for Seuss fans after the disaster that was The Cat in the Hat. The Cat project seemed like a loser from the start, and what eventually hit the screen was a disgrace to good bedtime stories throughout the ages. Mike Myers looked nightmarish in his outfit, as did Carrey playing the Grinch (although the Grinch is supposed to be a little scary).

Trivia Note: This year's release of The Love Guru will be Myers' first appearance in a live-action film since The Cat in the Hat five years ago. Perhaps that movie made him go hide in Shrekland for a half-decade. No one could really blame him.

One wonders what Seuss work will be conquered next by Hollywood. I'm curious to see if they could stretch Green Eggs and Ham into a feature-length film. One thing's for sure: Horton Hears a Who! proves that paintbrushes, be they digital or wooden, are more suitable for Dr. Seuss than live action.