In the jungle of Nool, big-hearted, imaginative elephant Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey) happens upon a little speck of dust from which he hears the tiniest yelp. Turns out living on that speck are the microcosmic denizens of Whoville, led by steadfast Mayor Ned McDodd (Steve Carell), who has a loving wife named Sally (Amy Poehler), ninety-six daughters (all voiced by Selena Gomez) and a little son called Jo-Jo (Jesse McCartney). Mayor McDodd finds out from lisping Dr. Larue (Isla Fisher) that Whoville will be destroyed unless Horton can find them a "safer, more stable home". So Horton resolves to place the speck atop Mount Nool, the safest place in the jungle. Despite support from his friend Morton the Mouse (Seth Rogen), Horton's heroic endeavour is ridiculed by other animals, especially busybody the Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett). Believing Horton's "dangerous" beliefs will cause chaos and anarchy, she enlists villainous vulture Vlad (Will Arnett) and angry apes the Wickersham Brothers (Frank Welker and Dan Castellaneta) to further imperil his epic quest.
Recent screen adaptations of Dr. Seuss classics have been iffy at best (Ron Howard's The Grinch (2000) also with Jim Carrey) and downright calamitous at worst (the ill-conceived Mike Myers vehicle The Cat in the Hat (2003)), lacking that distinctive Seussian wit and charm present in Chuck Jones' animated adaptations or the author's self-scripted, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1951). But this wholly delightful CG cartoon consigns those mishaps to the bin where they belong, overflowing as it is with wit, humanity and visual ingenuity.
Horton the Elephant first reached the big screen under the auspices of Warner Bros. in the cartoon short Horton Hatches an Egg (1942) by Bob Clampett. Chuck Jones' 1970 television special is an accomplished work in its own right, but directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino have done a truly jaw-dropping job here. Never before has Seuss' higgledy-piggledy world seemed so vibrantly candy-colourful, so effervescently alive. Added to the mix are handful of unexpectedly entertaining digressions, including a sequence where Horton imagines himself the star of his own anime fantasy (complete with super-stylised kung fu and dodgy dubbing); an intro to Whoville rendered in pen-and-ink illustrations straight out of Seuss' storybooks; the climax wherein the entire cast burst into a karaoke cover version of REO Speed wagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling"; and a way-out-of-leftfield homage to the "Ecstasy of Gold" sequence from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)!
Carrey and Carell pitch their performances to perfection, but the all-star cast of comedy character actors bring their A-game to an unusually intelligent, laugh-out-loud script. Amidst an array of endearing eccentrics, Seth Rogen, Amy Poehler, Selena Gomez, Isla Fisher (fast becoming Hollywood's go-to girl for kooky cuteness), and especially Will Arnett and the great Carol Burnett relish their moments in the spotlight. My personal favourite being Katie the spaced-out little yak voiced by Joey King, who manages the unique trick of being utterly cute yet decidedly unsettling.
Little wonder the voice actors exhibit such zest, because Horton Hatches a Who spins Seuss' most profound and multilayered story, simultaneously an affirmation of the spiritual, a plea against close-mindedness and intolerance, an eco-fable before such things were fashionable, and a warning against the dangers of mindless conformity. It's all there, delivered with a lightness of touch and action aplenty. Horton's oft-quoted mantra: "A person's a person, no matter how small" (later co-opted by the pro-life movement much to the good doctor's dismay) is a disarmingly poetic piece of philosophizing that packs a punch with each passing generation.