Directors: Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino, 2008.
Growing up in England, Dr. Seuss was not very big. Either that, or I had a very sheltered childhood. Whichever the reason, I had never read the Dr. Seuss book that this film is based on and so had no idea of the plot.
This film was better than I expected;
it did not even leave me dejected.
It entertained me with its rhyme,
while it whiled away the time.
As it leaves the Whos with relief,
it tells a story of belief.
The tale is of Horton (Jim Carrey), the elephant living in the jungle of Nool. One day, while simply enjoying the life of a pachyderm, he hears a cry. This cry is coming from a speck of dust that landed on a purple clover. He saves the clover from falling into the lake. But when he tries to explain the cries to his friends, they cannot hear.
Horton crosses a line when he tells the animal children. Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), the antagonist, sees this as leading them astray. Since she and they cannot see, hear or feel the Whos, they cannot exist. And if they don't exist, then Horton needs to simply let go of the clover. It is a delusional influence, according to her. And, being the leader that she is, she uses her authority to persuade the other animals in the jungle that Horton needs to be silenced.
Meanwhile in the microscopic land of the speck, there is the town of Whoville filled with Whos. The mayor (Steve Carrell) is the only one who hears Horton, and they enter into a dialog, neither able to see the other. But, since the speck has been moved from its original location, it is now unsafe, facing danger.
The artwork here is lush and colorful, vibrant even, with realistic drawing. But like Kung Fu Panda, there is a dream sequence that juxtaposes this realism with faux-Japanese anime style.
The voice talent in Horton is first-rate. Jim Carrey matches Horton to perfection. When Horton morphs his large floppy ears into a variety of hats, it is easy to picture the malleable face of Carrey, known for his physical humor. Steve Carrell brings his dry comic sense to the mayor, who in Whoville is a misunderstood Who.
As the movie reaches its climax, Horton is chased by an angry horde. Ironically, Kangaroo wanting to protect the order of the jungle incites the animals into a frenzied anarchistic mob. Horton finds himself surrounded. Facing Kangaroo, she offers him a choice, recant or be imprisoned in a cage; either way the clover is destined for destruction.
Faith is the theme that unites Horton and the Mayor. Both have to choose to believe in something they cannot see and face the consequences. Horton has the tougher role. He faces active persecution for his faith. In this life we have to choose what we will believe in. Will we believe in no God, accepting time and chance as the causes of all we see? Or will we believe in Jesus, the God who made it all and still holds it all together (Col. 1:16-17)? Many do choose to follow Jesus, though we cannot physically see, hear or feel him. And when we tell our friends, if they respond like little children they will hear and believe. But many of our friends or relatives refuse to accept what they cannot prove with their senses.
Moreover, Horton gives an illustration of what can ensue from following Jesus. For some, there is active persecution, even death. There have been many martyrs for the Christian faith over the centuries, from Stephen (Acts 7) and the apostles to many modern missionaries. Jim Elliot was one who was killed by the Auca indians he was trying to reach; he left us with the famous saying: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
On the other hand, many of us who follow Jesus don't face angry hordes or death. For us, our faith is more like that of the Mayor. When we tell others there is one who is above all, greater than all and who holds our world in his hand, they simply laugh at us or belittle us. This is essentially how the Whos treat the Mayor. For him, Horton the huge elephant in the sky actually holds his world in his hand, or at least in his trunk. And the future of Whoville is totally dependent on this god-like figure.
As the film moves to it showdown, Morton (Seth Rogen), challenges Horton to give up his quest. But Horton says, "I meant what I said and I said what I meant." Morton completes the rhyme: "An elephant's faithful one hundred percent." This is Horton's motto. He has made a promise, and he is faithful to keep it. Whatever it might cost him, he is determined to take the Whos to safety even if it costs him his life. What a marvellous moral message for us today. Too often, we make a statement, throw out a promise, that we don't really mean. And in letting the promise drift away, not keeping it, we lose our credibility. Trust is trashed. Our character is chipped away with each promise that evaporates like the morning mist. Promises are meant to be kept. Promises should not be uttered without careful thought.
It took me 27 years to come to faith in Jesus. Perhaps if I had read Dr. Seuss as a kid, I might have discovered faith before adolescence. For faith and faithfulness are the dual rivers running through this film.
Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs