Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!

Written at the time of the film's release in 2008

Who Put the Pixels in my Seuss?

Frankly, it's about time!

We, as movie-goers (and parents) have had to suffer through two live action adaptations of beloved Dr. Seuss books, that took them, stretched them to ungainly proportions making them loud and obnoxious, tossed in the obligatory fart and sex jokes with self-indulgent Jim Carrey and Mike Myers performances, and probably, most egregious of all, drained as much of the Seussian outlandishness in design to make it all work in a "real" world. I'm looking at you, Ron Howard, and Bo Welch! You destroyed my childhood!!*

Actually, what they did was make crappy films out of very good, inspiring source material. It takes some real lack of talent to do that.
The Seuss estate has tried mightily to make who-hay out of the Good Doctor's (real name: Theodore Geisel-RIP) post-war output** with their web-sites and Broadway seussicals and elephantine films, and have been largely successful, ca$h-wise, even if their value as far as representations in other media have been failures. 

Somebody must have realized that, because someone had the wise idea to return Geisel to the medium to which he has successfully worked in the past—animation*** A brilliant idea that, if a no-brainer, and it will hopefully save the rest of the Seuss library from destruction at the hands of auteur's with big budgets and few ideas. Imagine what Pixar could do with a Seuss film?**** As it is,
Horton Hears a Who! was in good hands with the Ice Age crew--they seem, in sensibility, the ones who are studying the Looney Tunes model for making animated entertainment, and the resulting film, though stretching the premise to its breaking point, is never less than entertaining, and frequently fiendishly brilliant in how it has represented Seussian ideas and concepts.Okay, the casting is a bit top-heavy. Jim Carrey is the elephant in the room, but he's just as adept at vocal gymnastics and although Horton now seems to be on a perpetual coffee jag, it gooses the pace of the material in a not-inoffensive and practical way. The fact that he isn't "live" and stuck in some faux-Seuss costume probably helps restrain him, as well. Steve Carrell, who one worries about how far he can stretch, is equally good as the bumbling mayor of Who-ville who has trouble making his presence known just about anywhere. Here's perfect casting--the "concerned mother kangaroo" who becomes increasing strident to "protect the children"--Carol Burnett. Seth Rogan is there and Will Arnett, but I doubt folks will be clamoring to see the movie because of them--the voice-casting is spot on, with only one possible exception. The somewhat unctuous narration is by CBS Neuss' Charles Osgood--possibly Dr. Seuss's biggest fan. He's fine. But his warm, soothing tones seems to be assuring the entire time that everything will be all right, and that everything is lovely, when what is needed is a voice that has some grit in it--which is why Boris Karloff as the Narrator for the animated "Grinch" was such a brilliant stroke.
And the design--the design of the thing is beautiful and so Seuss. It would take another viewing (or three) to see all the details and great ideas (and Seuss in-jokes) filling the frames.

Fortunately, the film is good enough to bear up to repeat viewings. And it does one brilliant, little snarky thing: It co-opts a 70's rock-ballad to make fun of most cartoons' tendencies to end with a heart-felt song. It's hilarious.
Dr. Seuss was not only employed to help kids read, he wrote his stories to make kids think. "Horton Hears a Who" was written as a plea for tolerance in an intolerant time,***** and its message "A person's a person no matter how small" has been co-opted by the anti-abortion crowd--Mrs. Dr. Seuss was quite miffed when the premiere was disrupted by chanting protesters, whereas the good Dr. would have tried to kick their collective asses (he threatened to sue one group for using the quote on their stationary)--and this movie is full of messages for all to read into. There's a climate change theme, there's the intolerance theme, there's the "be-yourself" theme, the "tyranny of the mob" theme, the impotent figurehead-non-democratic council-strength in numbers democracy theme, the "make yourself heard" theme, and the fact the mayor has 97 children (96 girls and 1 boy) and uses a timer to allocate only so many seconds of attention to each should say something to somebody. It tends to put a fuzzy edge to "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant"

But Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! is faithful. Almost 100%.

* Well, not really, but I've always wanted to write that, seeing as how so many "chat-room fan-boys" out there have written the phrase every time somebody has done something that doesn't fit into their limited "world-view." It's the semi-adult version of stamping your little foot. Frankly, I'd rather they held their breath until they turned blue.

**We won't see anything done with Private Snafu--with which he collaborated with the Termite Terrace crowd--that would make an interesting law-suit if Warner Brothers decided to cash in on the Seuss name--or some of his more racy material.

*** Even before the Chuck Jones-produced "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" or the original cartoon version of "Horton Hears a Who," Geisel worked with Bob Clampett and Warner Brothers to make a short of "Horton Hatches an Egg" in 1942.

**** Jimmy Hayward, who along with Steve Martino, directed Horton... was a Pixar animator. It's their first feature...well done.******

***** Geisel was a leftist--but his buzzard Vlad Vladikoff, is surely Soviet-based, and, supposedly the Wikersham Brothers--the ape-boys (who are animated splendidly in this) are based on Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

****** Cool! The asterisks get an asterisk. As a post-script, the two directors took wildly divergent paths: Jimmy Hayward went to live-action, where he directed Jonah Hex (anybody remember that one? John Brolin as DC's disfigured western anti-hero? Didn't think so); Martino stayed with animation, supervising the "Ice Age" franchise and directing the rather lovely new Peanuts movie.

Okay, everybody has to mess with the material in some way (Clampett's cartoon had a fish that looked like Peter Lorre shooting its brains out), and this is how Martino and Hayward mess with this version—but it's so weird I like it.

No comments:

Post a Comment