It's always good when a movie isn't insufferably bad. *Horton Hears A Who!*, the computer animated retelling of the classic Dr. Seuss tale, isn't insufferably bad like, say, the live action *How The Grinch Stole Christmas* (2000), which also starred Jim Carrey. That's a pretty minimal quality claim, but by *Grinch* standards, *Horton Hears A Who!* isn't bad at all, which just goes to show that if you set the bar low enough, just about anything can pass over it.
Horton, crafted by Blue Sky Animation (*Ice Age*) does better than that, really, and it stays reasonably true to Seuss' story of the compassionate, open-minded pachyderm who saves the world of the Whos. The Whos live in Who-ville, of course, and their entire world is a tiny speck of dust sitting atop a clover blossom under the care and protection of Horton (Carrey), who has the only ears in the Jungle of Nool fine-tuned enough to hear the microscopically wee Whos. Horton's nemesis is a bossy busybody of a kangaroo (Carol Burnett), a moralizing law and order type who would rather commit Who-genocide than admit that, as Horton philosophizes, "a person's a person, no matter how small."
The small people are the ones that *Horton Hears A Who!* is primarily pitched to, although Carrey cannot resist the urge to riff a little and throw a few jokes in for the parental escorts. Carrey's Horton is, to say the least, a good deal more antic and less gentle in his Who stewardship than Seuss' Horton, which is to say that, rather than molding himself to a multigenerationally beloved character, Carrey has seen fit to make the character his own. This is not necessarily a good thing, depending on how much you like Jim Carrey, although Horton falls somewhere in the middle of the most-restrained to least-restrained spectrum of Carrey performances, which still puts it rather more towards the clown end than the calmer, sweeter end where one would expect to find the kindhearted, faithful Horton.
Meanwhile, down in Who-ville, the mayor (Steve Carell) has a mopey, uncommunicative emo son named Jo-Jo with whom the father-son bonding just isn't clicking. He's got a city council full of don't-worry-be-happy types to contend with too, and they just don't want to hear that Who-ville is in mortal peril. There are a lot of extraneous characters and a fair amount of fill to *Horton Hears A Who!* -- necessary, perhaps, to pad the movie to its bare bones 88 minute feature length -- but it distracts from the core story and makes the movie drag at times, despite all the frantic goings-on.
Writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, along with directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Marino, pack the movie with plenty of narrow escapes and death defying feats of elephantine derring-do. None of the extra characters are particularly filled out, nor are they especially original. There's Morton the mouse (Seth Rogen), Horton's hyperactive rodent sidekick (Why a mouse? Maybe it was a nod to Ganesha and Kroncha.), quirky scientist Dr. Mary Lou LaRue (Isla Fisher), and some odd little kid critters, at least one of whom appears to be a refugee from a Hayao Miyazaki film.
Miyazaki's influence shows up in a send-up of anime stylings during one of the movie's traditional animation interludes (the other being more in the Seuss mold). The computer animation in *Horton Hears A Who!* is diverse, moving from the photorealistic to the Seussian, with Who-ville in particular rendered in a way that's very true to the zany, curvy Seuss aesthetic. For all that's not by the book about *Horton Hears A Who!*, the look of the film -- the architecture and landscapes and character design -- stays true to the good doctor's loopy vision.
It ultimately stays pretty true to Dr. Seuss' message too. While Horton tries to shepherd his miniscule flock to safety, the mean ol' kangaroo rouses the rabble and gets them all terrorized by the free-thinking elephant menace. Seuss wrote Horton in 1954, in the wake of the McCarthy hearings, but the cautionary tale about intolerance and fear-mongering remains, alas, timely and relevant.