Issue date: 3/21/08
For the most part, the film focuses on Dr. Seuss' original plot: Horton the elephant (The Number 23's Jim Carrey) discovers a microscopic world on a speck of dust, befriends the mayor of tiny Whoville ("The Office"'s Steve Carell) and then embarks on a journey to find a safe place to store the speck of dust.
In addition to its faithful rendition of the original plot, the movie's vibrant animation excellently captures the tone of Seuss' trademark whimsical illustrations. The live-action adaptations of Seuss' work had neutered this essential quality with pounds of creepy makeup and expensive but drab set pieces. The success of Horton's visual style seems to indicate that Seuss' magic works best in a cartoon format.
Another aspect of the movie that separates it from The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat is its refusal to allow the story to be hijacked by any of its performers. Jim Carrey tones down his act to create a sweet and sometimes funny character without overstaying his welcome.
The voice acting in general is well done, with notable performances coming from Carell and from Will Arnett ("Arrested Development") as the vulture mercenary, Vlad.
The movie only temporarily loses its way whenever it forays into the subplots added in order to extend a 10-minute read into a 90-minute movie. For instance, the plotline involving the miscommunication between the mayor and his only son (out of 97 children) is clichéd and never really gets resolved.
Besides adding these ill-advised plot devices, the movie's only other shortcoming is that it never really strikes an appropriate balance between entertaining both children and adults. For a cartoon like Horton, keeping parents and nostalgic college students from groaning or falling asleep in their seats should be subservient to the primary goal of entertaining children. However, most of the laughs in the theater were coming from the adults, while the kids often sounded confused. That isn't to say they were never laughing; on the contrary, most of the kids seemed to enjoy the movie quite a bit, judging by the looks on their faces as they exited the theater. But it often seemed like there was a chorus of "huh?" accompanying the film's soundtrack.
Overall, Horton Hears a Who! is the best of the three recent Dr. Seuss adaptations. The general adherence to the original plot, engaging but never over-the-top voice acting and lively visuals easily offset the movie's few shortcomings.