Horton Hears a Who! has the enormous advantage of Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) still lingering in our collective memory, ensuring us that no matter what the Fox animation squad does to Horton can’t possibly be worse that the grotesquerie of Howard’s live-action toilet fodder. Horton does share Grinch’s star, but fortunately Jim Carrey, often cartoonish in any case, can’t mug quite as gratingly when reduced to voice only. (And weirdly, the elephant looks more like costar Steve Carell than it does Carrey.) In fact there are a moments where his good-natured titular elephant, persecuted for claiming that an entire world exists on a spec resting on a flower, is reasonably charming, interacting with his pupils or with his mouse pal, the obligatory sidekick well-voiced by Seth Rogan.
What ushers Horton Hears a Who! to a substantially higher level of Seussian entertainment however are the scenes in Whoville, where Carell’s Mayor slips and slides through a village of curly, gravity-defying, Gaudi-inspired architecture and candy-coloured everything. While Horton’s jungle home feels akin to typical contemporary, soft-hued, numbingly fluid, Hollywood-budgeted computer animation, Whoville, where the animation style has been stripped down to something far more graphically bold, draws us into a landscape that actually feels like a place Seuss might have dreamed up.
But the film’s major problem isn’t related to these varying degrees of visual or aural charisma. What makes Horton Hears a Who! something of a drag is the fact that you can feel writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (the scribes behind The Santa Clause 2) straining to expand Seuss’s winsomely compact tale to feature length. There are too many supporting characters with little to do, too many scenes that become repetitive and redundant. One of the laudable themes of the story is the importance of questioning authority: if only the team behind the film could have questioned their studio superiors to the point of making them accept that Horton, like the beloved 1966 version of Grinch, would probably work better at a third of the duration.