My apologies to anyone who’s tired of hearing about the cinematic voyages of my four-year old son, but when it comes to a film like ‘Horton Hears a Who,’ I could hardly overlook the fact that a member of its target audience is currently residing in my house. Suffice to say, he adored every minute of it. Adapted from a Dr. Seuss children’s story of the same name by the folks responsible for the ‘Ice Age’ series, ‘Horton Hears a Who’ doesn’t have the multi-generational appeal of the latest-and-greatest Pixar insta-classic, but it will leave your kids in a state of wide-eyed wonder and seat-hopping joy.
When a reluctant elephant named Horton (Jim Carrey) discovers an entire civilization of creatures living on a single speck of dust nestled on a flower in his possession, he becomes determined to protect his new-found “Whos” at all cost. Talking directly with the Mayor of the Whos (Steve Carell) -- a decent family man whose wife (Amy Poehler), ninety-six daughters (all voiced by Selena Gomez), and lone son, JoJo (Jesse McCartney), are ridiculed by their brethren when the Mayor explains the nature and danger of their true existence -- Horton decides to deliver the flower to a more stable resting place atop Mt. Hool. However, when an irritable Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) refuses to believe the elephant’s story, she acquires the help of a menacing vulture (Will Arnett) and riles up the other animals in the jungle in an attempt to stop Horton and destroy the flower.
’Horton Hears a Who’ doesn’t rely on dual-audience punchlines… it doesn’t even attempt to barrage its adult viewers with cleverly camouflaged gags or meticulously-mapped developments. It focuses squarely on the kiddies, using mild physical comedy, crystal-clear subplots, and endearing characters to deliver a singular message about faith and belief. Admittedly, the G-rated film treads familiar ground that won’t teach older children anything dozens of other flicks haven’t already reinforced countless times before, but it does so with such an infectious whimsy that its thematic unoriginality is easily forgiven.
That’s not to say the entire film plays like a childhood rerun. Seemingly drizzled off a painter’s brush with a decided respect for the original story’s artwork, the Blue Sky Studios CG animation is simplistic but unique -- a fanciful daydream that brings together expressive characters, bizarre environments, and graceful motion in a cohesive, eye-pleasing whole. The voice work rises to the occasion as well, relying on the talented efforts of a who’s who of comedy stars from television and film. Exchanging edgier material for charming interactions and surface-level humor isn’t an easy task, but Carrey, Carell, and the supporting cast members never phone in their lines or toss out anything that doesn’t have real feeling behind it.
I can’t say I would have enjoyed ‘Horton Hears a Who’ as much without a bouncing little boy clutching onto my arm, but I also didn’t find myself glancing at the clock or longing for the credits to roll. ‘Horton’ is a light-hearted throwback to an animated era of uncomplicated storytelling and decipherable morals, a feel-good family comedy that breezes along with sincerity and emotional authenticity. I imagine your family -- unless its ranks are filled with cynics, young and old -- will enjoy this one as much as mine did.
’Horton Hears a Who’ arrives on Blu-ray with a stunning 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer minted directly from the digital source. The film’s vibrant palette will instantly grab your attention as it floods the screen with bold primaries, lush splashes of color, and deep blacks. Contrast is spot on and detail is incredible as well. While the painterly aesthetics don’t provide the sort of eye-gouging textures you might find in other CG-animated features, elements like fur, skin, hair, grass, and rock facial features are lovingly rendered and perfectly sharp. A brief appearance of 2D animation looks just as good, boasting crisp lineart, stable colorfills, and unhindered bursts of bright light. More importantly, I didn’t detect any substantial artifacting, noise, edge enhancement, or meddling post-production nonsense that might spoil the gorgeous visuals.
The film’s less-demanding style may not lend itself to Pixar's high standards, but the transfer is nevertheless flawless. Videophiles, casual fans, and even the most discerning kids won’t be disappointed with the results.
Think a Seussian adventure couldn’t possibly excite your sonic sensibilities? Think again. ‘Horton Hears a Who’ features an unexpectedly involving DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that drew me into both its worlds with a truly impressive soundfield. Dialogue is clean and well-prioritized, LFE support is robust and aggressive, and the film’s bouncy score is precise, dynamic, and nicely balanced across every channel. The rear speakers pipe up continually as well, infusing each room and environment with convincing acoustics and natural ambience. Furthermore, pans are transparent, directionality is dead on, and the characters’ many bumbles and stumbles fill the soundfield with rich, highly-detailed effects that sound fantastic. Sure, the quick crashes and tattering junk is overplayed and exaggerated, but it’s for comedic effect rather than the product of a technical deficiency in the track.
The lone complaint I’ll level at the lossless track is that the soundfield is occasionally so busy that subtle but imperative elements are slightly buried in the mix. Look no further than Kangaroo’s third-act witch hunt to hear exactly what I mean. Thankfully, such short-lived instances of a minor shortcoming are never a huge distraction and rarely detract from the otherwise top-notch track.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Horton Hears a Who’ includes all of the supplemental features that appear on the concurrently-released Special Edition DVD (minus a DVD-ROM activity center). Unfortunately, the disc’s long list of featurettes doesn’t actually amount to that much material.
Aside from a dull and deceptively limited supplemental package, the Blu-ray edition of ‘Horton Hears a Who’ is a real treat. It features a reference level video transfer courtesy of its digital source, a surprisingly strong DTS HD Master Audio surround track, and an animated adventure that will leave your kids wanting more. The film itself doesn’t have the same level of adult appeal, but parents will find more than a few laughs waiting for them at the end of Horton’s well-intentioned trunk. This is an easy one to recommend, especially if you’re looking for a good movie to stick under the tree for your kids this holiday season.