- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on www.commonsensemedia.org.

‘Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!’

Rating: G

Common Sense Media: On. For ages 4 and older.

**** (out of five stars)

Running time: 86 minutes

Common Sense review: In this adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic “Horton Hears a Who!” beloved elephant Horton is voiced by Jim Carrey. Horton, as any Seuss fan knows, lives peacefully in the Jungle of Nool until the day he hears a nearly inaudible call for help from a teeny, tiny speck, which he places on a clover. As it turns out, that speck is home to Whoville and its citizens, the Whos. Following his motto that “a person’s a person, no matter how small,” Horton promises the Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) to keep Whoville safe, even though residents of the jungle, led by the sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) think Horton is either crazy or a liar and want to destroy the speck.

Mr. Carrey and Mr. Carell are the perfect combo to play Horton and the Mayor. With their impeccable timing and incredibly expressive voices, they capture their characters’ sense of awe and insecurity. The film expands the book’s character pool to create a huge family for the Mayor: He has a wife (Amy Poehler) and 96 daughters. Also, JoJo (Jesse McCartney) is now the Mayor’s loner, misunderstood son instead of a random Who. There are other differences between the original text and the film, but most work just fine to pad the story.

What’s especially refreshing is that, by keeping the adaptation animated, there are no costumed actors to distract from the story’s positive message. Horton firmly keeps the focus on his promise to protect the Whos because he believes in the inherent value of all beings. That’s a powerful — and difficult — concept for very young children to grasp, but somehow Dr. Seuss (channeled by this big-studio production) makes the lesson both approachable and very entertaining.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know the wide fan base of the book, coupled with the popularity of voice actors Jim Carrey and Steve Carell — not to mention a great deal of marketing power — should make most children, especially those younger than 12, interested in seeing the film. Its message, like many Seuss tales, is one of inclusion and protecting those who can’t protect themselves. There’s not much in the way of iffy content, either, aside from a little mild potty humor. Even Vlad (Will Arnett), the slightly scary bird, is funnier than he is disturbing.

Families can talk about the movie’s message. Children: What does Horton’s motto — “A person’s a person, no matter how small” — mean? How does he prove he means it? Families also can discuss how the movie stacks up against the book. Are the extra characters and story lines in keeping with the spirit of the Dr. Seuss original? Do you like this animated adaptation better than live-action ones like “The Cat in the Hat” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”? Why or why not?

Sexual content: The mayor’s wife tells him she loves him and they hug.

Language alert: Kangaroo offers a few mild insults about Horton’s behavior. A little mild potty humor.

Violence alert: The Wickersham monkeys attack Horton with bananas and later participate in a near-lynching (led by Kangaroo) of Horton and his Whoville speck. Vlad the bird is scary but also funny.

Commercialism alert: Nothing in the film itself, but there are multiple merchandise tie-ins with IHOP, events at Target and contests in newspapers.

Social behavior alert: Horton’s two mottos are important life lessons: “A person’s a person no matter how small,” and “An elephant’s word is 100 percent.” Horton’s behavior teaches children about keeping promises and protecting those who can’t protect themselves.

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