Since the death of Theodor Geisel, the quality of Dr. Seuss adaptations has been shockingly low -- Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the Mike Myers-led The Cat in the Hat are both ceaselessly unpleasant. Horton Hears a Who certainly is a marked improvement on those other two, but it also falls far short of living up to the source material. On the plus side, the film has a really great look. The opening five minutes, when Horton bathes himself in the cool of the pool, have a colorful -- nearly tactile -- warmth, and the filmmakers have managed to make the characters more conventionally appealing than the original drawings without sacrificing their unique qualities. Sadly, most attempts to modify Seuss' world derail the movie. Instead of retaining the verbal playfulness, the filmmakers change the original words, and also throw in pop-culture references to Apocalypse Now, Henry Kissinger, and a jarringly out-of-place group singalong to REO Speedwagon's, "Can't Fight This Feeling." These additions feel like soulless marketing ploys made simply to give the film the kind of supposed "edge" that propelled the Shrek films to over a billion dollars at the box office. The difference is that the pop-culture references in Shrek dovetailed with the filmmakers' intention to skewer the stale attitudes of the children's stories that have become rigid with familiarity. Seuss' works may rival those classic tales in terms of popularity, but the books themselves are still fresh and feisty in large part because the morals already question conventional wisdom and encourage critical thinking. This might be called Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who, but one is hard-pressed to find much of anything all that Seussian about it.
by Perry Seibert review