In the latest Seuss adaptation, Horton Hears a Who!, you'll find chaos theory in action: An errant nut bumps a speck of dust from a flower's pistil and into the air, until it finally nestles on a clover near Horton (Jim Carrey). The innocent elephant learns that the town of Whoville resides within the curious particle, provoking a serious philosophical inquiry. The youth of Nool are rapt with the animal's hefty introspection — "If you were way out in space and you looked down at where we live, we would look like a speck" — and heed his urgent call to save Whoville's denizens. But Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), blinkers on, will not have any of it — because if you can't see, hear, or feel it, it mustn't exist, right? Wrong! And so a perturbed Horton journeys to save Whoville, and like the wee town's mayor (Steve Carell), who's desperate to convince his peers that there's a world beyond theirs, Horton's struggle is to explode preconceptions and fight to have one's voice heard.
The film resists the excessive pop-culture references of the Shrek franchise and, even at its most unbridled and inevitable (WhoSpace, where the people of Whoville connect with their friends!), the humor is in the spirit of Seuss' original rhymes. Directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino mercifully find a muzzle for Carrey's typically spastic energy (his voice is almost as unrecognizable here as his face was beneath the hairy green latex he donned to play the Grinch). And even when the script threatens to throw the movie off-kilter — as in a seemingly contrived reference to John F. Kennedy's lunar aspirations — Carrey manages to find poignancy, connecting Horton's own hopeful ambitions to raise the consciousness of Nool's motley populace to JFK's level.
Horton, a "warrior poet" to his friend Morton (Seth Rogen), is the antithesis of the malicious Grinch, and when a bird drops his prized clover into a vast field of similar flora, the elephant's shock is palpable. It's uncommon for a cartoon to be afflicted with such fierce conviction, so it's especially thrilling when this eye-opening film, during its nervy climax, doesn't shy away from casting Horton as John Proctor to Kangaroo's lynch mob. It's also rare for a cartoon of this kind to find room in its vernacular for "the democratic process," but don't reduce Horton Hears a Who! to some lefty screed. Rather than trivializing or antagonizing with its collision of secular and religious beliefs, the film recognizes how faith is an essential part of both value systems. Respect is what Horton's preaching, and that's a message to be foisted guilt-free on children.
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