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"Horton Hears a … Cellphone?"

by on December 30, 2008

Horton Hears a Who takes a classic short story and stretches it to fill a ninety-minute feature running time, and it shows. Though it is by no means a bad movie, and might even make you laugh a bit, its comedy is as unsubtle as the trunk on Horton’s face. In the end, it’s only an exceptionally well-made piece of kids entertainment.

OK, I give up. I don't see first in there anywhere.I’m probably betraying my age, but I really prefer my Dr. Seuss stories in 2-D. CGI is a great tool for the right story, but it seems to me that a log of the whimsical innocence in a Seuss story just gets lost in a 3-D world. The very contemporary “gotta have gags that the kids will get” attitude also clashes with the very timeless ethos of the Seuss world when it isn’t just straining the believability of the story. Why would an elephant in the jungle know what John F. Kennedy sounds like? Why would Whos have cell phones? It’s certainly funny, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a forced funny, and it really sticks out in comparison to the original story.

The animation itself is good—not quite up to the standard of Pixar, but very good. Most of the animation has a very claymation look to it, with the exception of a few moments of 2-D animation that illustrate some of the thoughts in Horton’s head, including a wonderful send up of old-style anime. Everything is very curly and squishy in look, and if it’s not quite the classic vision of Dr. Seuss, it seems to be the current taste in animation, if the film’s box office performance is any indication.

I guess the atmosphere that I've tried to create here is that I'm a friend first and a boss second, and probably an entertainer third.The DVD presentation is very good. The film looks pristine, and I would imagine it is a direct digital transfer from the master files. The disc is also fairly well loaded with extras, including a full length commentary track from the directors, Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino; a large number of animation tests; a brief fluff piece on Blue Sky Studios; some bits on the voice recording sessions; some borderline sappy if well intentioned “we’re all human” blurbs; and a few DVD remote games for the kids. The package also includes the increasingly standard digital copy of the film for use on various portable devices when you just don’t want to bring the DVD itself along.

Horton Hears a Who will probably not go down as a great artistic achievement, but for children’s entertainment it is very good. It contains nothing that any fairly reasonable person would consider inappropriate, though the end does get a little scary. No one makes an off-color joke. No one passes gas for a laugh. There’s only a few jokes that would go over a child’s head, and none of those are anything that a parent would need to be concerned about. It’s not great entertainment, but it is entertaining.

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