Genre: CGI family comedy
The pitch: When the miniscule city-state of Whoville lands on a clover in the Jungle of Nool, kindly elephant Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey) protects it from hostile nay-sayers fomented by the Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), while the Whoville Mayor (Steve Carell) tries to convince the oblivious Whos of their danger.
Money shots: Blue Sky Studios (creators of the Ice Age films) turns Whoville into a delightfully surreal assemblage of Rube Goldberg gizmos and impossible architecture. Horton heroically pursues a clover-snatching vulture (Will Arnett) over a snowy mountain, only to lose the Whos in an endless clover field. The Whos play crazy musical instruments to be heard in Horton's world. The film also finds room for amusing visual puns, like Horton adjusting his trunk like a shower head.
Best line: In response to Horton's motto "I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant's faithful, one hundred per cent," his rodent pal Morton (Seth Rogen) urges him to renounce the clover: "Just once be faithful ninety-nine percent. I'm never ninety-nine percent, and I think I'm awesome!"
Vulgar humor: Horton runs against the Shrek-era trend with refreshingly few gross-out jokes. One girlish animal starts carrying a flower and claims, "In my world, everyone's a pony and they eat rainbows and poop butterflies!" That's about it, apart from some choking and bad-breath gags.
Seuss references: Whoville's bullying City Council all have green fur and wicked smiles, like a group of Grinches. A baby animal mentions an imaginary friend "Thidwick," and we later see the famed "big-hearted moose" in a crowd scene. The mayor's pet fish looks like the one from The Cat in the Hat.
Non-Seuss references: Carrey tosses off some JFK and Henry Kissinger impressions. Horton imagines an anime-style fight scene. Morton urges Horton to "Keep watching the skies!" from 1951's The Thing. The film footnotes Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but overall the references are so unobtrusive that you don't mind the big 1980s pop song at the end.
And some inside jokes: Arnett also voiced a sinister vulture in Ice Age: The Meltdown. Narrator Charles Osgood apparently specializes in whimsical rhymes on his radio commentaries. Can the Who City Council's use of a "cone of silence" foreshadow Carell's upcoming Get Smart?
Better than the book? No, but it's still a terrific adaptation that lovingly replicates Dr. Seuss' signature drawing style. The device of "doubling" the lonely-believer narrative effectively expands the story to feature length while supporting Seuss' themes against mob mentality.
The bottom line: Horton Hears a Who! has the heart of Seuss' beloved books and a command of slapstick worthy of old Looney Tunes cartoons. It's as if the filmmakers knew exactly how big a desecration was Carrey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and did exactly the opposite, with splendid results. 4 stars