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New 'Horton' movie brings Whoville to life

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New 'Horton' movie brings Whoville to life
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Horton Hears a Who

(Rated G)

**** (out of 5)

Starring

Jim Carrey as Horton

Steve Carell as Whoville Mayor

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Carol Burnett as Kangaroo 84

Will Arnett as Vlad

Seth Rogan as Morton

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Directed by: Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino

As I approached the screening of "Horton Hears a Who," I didn't quite know what to expect. I had seen the trailers and some clips, and I'll admit it looked pretty good. However, Dr. Seuss has had a rough and tumble time in the motion picture adaptation department.

The original television special of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was quite brilliant. But like the Looney Tunes cartoons that shared its pedigree, the recent attempts have been often substandard. But there was something magical I saw in the computer generated version of "Horton Hears a Who" that gave me some faith.

At first, I was nervous with Jim Carrey in the lead role. It's not that Carrey's not a good actor. In fact, he's pretty good when he actually has some direction behind him. However, too many times directors just "let him do his thing" because he's so good at improvisation.

Sure, animated films have to be tightly scripted, but I was afraid they were going to let Carrey cut loose with the character of Horton similar to how Disney let Robin Williams have tons of fun with "Aladdin." And look at how Carrey utterly ruined the character of the Grinch in the live-action version, which was the worst Dr. Seuss travesty to hit the screens... until Mike Myers coughed up the hairball that was "The Cat in the Hat."

To my surprise, Carrey was generally restrained. Oh, there are moments where he riffs and pops out of character, but it was kept to a minimum, and that helped save this film.

"Horton Hears a Who" is about a kind elephant who hears voices coming from a speck of dust. He soon discovers that tiny creatures called Whos live on the speck, and they have been dislodged from their safe home. Now, Horton takes it upon himself to escort the speck to safety. However, he faces some challenges when the busybody Kangaroo tries to stop him from having what she sees as imaginary friends.

There are moments in the film when the story and liveliness derails, in particular a mob scene at the end that really gets out of hand. However, for the most part, things stay on track, and I found myself rooting for this fluffy elephant to succeed on his quest. And while there are some moment of peril, especially for the Whos on the speck, things are safe for kids of all ages to watch.

But the real feat of "Horton Hears a Who" is the brilliant design. For the first time, we get to see a Dr. Seuss world come to life outside of the 2D realm. What has only been hinted at with the dreadful "Grinch" and "Cat in the Hat" set designs has been perfected in the virtual world. All the colors, textures, fluidity and rubberiness that I remember from the classic Seuss drawings of my childhood are all on display in their full glory.

In a rather weak month of hit-and-miss films, "Horton Hears a Who" is easily the best Dr. Seuss movie made yet. And it came not a moment too soon. There's really nothing out there for kids right now, and this film has something for everyone. The characters are cute, and the message is sweet. There's plenty for the kids to like, and the adults will get some jokes for them as well.

I hope this gets the ball rolling for better and more faithful adaptations down the road, for as it stands now, "Horton Hears a Who" is the best Seussical adaptation for the big screen yet.

Kevin Carr is an independent writer, journalist and filmmaker who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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