In the Jungle of Nool, something foreign — the nearly infinitesimal planet of Who-ville — lands on a piece of clover, and Horton the elephant (voiced by Jim Carrey) detects cries from the clover speck. He can’t see the little Whos, but he deduces, believes, knows they’re in there; and his caring instinct tells him that they must be protected, against the collective protestations of other jungle creatures. Who-ville’s microscopic mayor (Steve Carell) has the same problem convincing his constituents that some giant unseen creature wants to help them. Ted Geisel’s 1954 book is about belief in what you can’t see, fidelity to a cause that others think is ridiculous and community service to reach an improbable goal. We’re all in this together, Seuss says; everyone’s important. Or, as Horton puts it: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
This children’s classic — a plangent plea for kids’ rights — was the source material for a 1970 TV cartoon by the great Warner Bros. animation director Chuck Jones. In the feature version from Blue Sky Studios, directors Jimmy Hayward (a veteran Pixar animator) and Steve Martino elaborated on the TV show’s designs to develop a dense, gorgeously goofy Who-ville — a town whose bright colors and sweetly tilting towers might have been dreamed up on a peyote-munching jag by Antonio Gaudi and Red Grooms. (Who-ville’s daft architectural logic makes a comely contrast to the jungle lushness of Nool.) As the faithful elephant and the cheerfully addled, increasingly desperate mayor, Carrey and Carell do inspired voice work. Though there are enough clever gags to entertain the most demanding media-savvy toddler, Horton remains faithful to the Seuss spirit, 100%. Blue Sky produced the Ice Age franchise, whose first three films have earned nearly $2 billion in movie houses worldwide, and this year’s color-and-comedy riot Rio, but Horton is still the studio’s peak achievement.
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