Warner Bros. // 1970 // 26 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // October 22nd, 2009
A person's a person, no matter how small.
One of Dr. Seuss' most likeable characters, Horton the kind-hearted elephant was introduced to young readers in 1940's Horton Hatches the Egg. In that book, the decent and honorable pachyderm takes over the motherly duties of Mayzie, a bird who absconds, leaving her egg alone and exposed. Horton returned to fight for the weak and vulnerable 14 years later in his most famous adventure, Horton Hears a Who!. This time around, old Horton is relaxing in the cool of the pool in the Jungle of Nool when he hears a tiny voice cry for help from a dust mote drifting by. He rescues the speck -- which contains an entire world of microscopic Whos -- places it safely on a soft, pink clover, and vows to protect it because "a person's a person, no matter how small." Soon enough, Horton becomes the butt of jokes among the denizens of the Jungle of Nool who, not having ears as large as an elephant's, cannot hear the gentle Whos. Horton and his Whos fall victim to a humpfing kangaroo and her pouched progeny, a gang of monkeys called the Wickersham brothers, and a black-bottomed eagle named Vlad Vladikoff who steal the clover, and then threaten to rope and cage Horton and boil the dust speck in Beezle-nut oil. The only hope for the Whos is if they can manage to kick up enough noise that the kangaroo and other animals hear them and extend mercy.
The animated version of Horton Hears a Who! is director Chuck Jones' second adaption of a Dr. Seuss book after his 1966 television special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It adheres closely to the plot of Seuss' book (though it changes some details -- the Who Mayor who communicates with Horton is replaced with a scientist named Dr. Hoovey; and the kangaroo, nameless in the book, is called Jane) and the structure of Jones' earlier cartoon. Actor Hans Conried provides narration (lifted liberally from the book) as well as voicing both Horton and Hoovey just as Boris Karloff narrated and provided most of the voices in Grinch. Thurl Ravenscroft's Mellomen do the singing for the Wickersham's (Ravenscroft sang "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," the signature tune from Jones' earlier Seuss adaptation). The remainder of the voice work is provided by June Foray as Jane the kangaroo, and Jones himself as both the young kangaroo and Jojo, the tiny Who whose barbaric yop finally saves the day.
The show is solidly constructed, well animated, and entertaining, though not as memorable as How the Grinch Stole Christmas (as a matter of fact, it has traditionally been offered as a supplement on DVD releases of Grinch; it only graduated to main feature status after the release of the computer-animated theatrical Horton feature starring Jim Carrey and Carol Burnett). The reasons that Horton doesn't work in animated form as well as Grinch aren't immediately apparent, considering Horton Hears a Who! is a far better book than How the Grinch Stole Christmas (in fact, it's one of Dr. Seuss' finest works). Grinch has the advantage of being associated with the biggest American holiday of the year. It also benefits enormously from the distinctive voice work of Boris Karloff (Conried is good, but the timbre of his voice doesn't burrow into one's psyche the way Karloff's, with its long association with horror movies, does). Perhaps most importantly, though, is that Horton lacks the kind of extended set piece that lends itself to Jones' visually playful, physics-defying style of animation like the Grinch's Christmas Eve raid on Whoville, during which he gets stuck in a chimney, plays billiards with Christmas tree ornaments, and mushes his dog up the absurd topography of Mount Crumpit, a sleigh with an enormous bag of stolen presents in tow. By comparison, Horton Hears a Who! is a low-key affair grounded in ideas, emotion, and the threat of honest-to-goodness violence (the animals of Nool comes awfully close to committing genocide, after all). It's a superior story, but a weaker cartoon.
In terms of video quality, the biggest difference between this Blu-ray and the Deluxe Edition DVD of Horton Hears a Who! released in 2008 is color reproduction. While the image on the meticulously remastered DVD is bright and attractive, the blues and pinks on the Blu-ray are incredibly vivid. Minor instances of age-related flaws and density variations are visible, but overall the show looks superb. Audio is a serviceable Dolby stereo presentation of the original source.
The Blu-ray contains most of the supplements from the Deluxe Edition DVD. Unfortunately, director Bob Clampett's (who, like Jones, became a legend helming Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies shorts) 10-minute adaptation of "Horton Hatches the Egg" from 1942 is missing. The absence of Clampett's short is a shame because it's easily the most relevant and entertaining extra from the DVD (Jones, who hated Clampett's guts, would probably be pleased by its omission, though). Carried over from the Deluxe Edition is Ralph Bakshi's 1989 adaptation of The Butter Battle Book, Dr. Seuss' allegory on the nuclear arms race, as well as 1995's Daisy Head Maizy, which stars Henry Gibson (The Blues Brothers) as the voice of the Cat in the Hat. In addition to the bonus cartoons, the disc contains an incredibly irritating documentary/comedy skit television special about Dr. Seuss from 1994 called In Search of Dr. Seuss. It stars Kathy Najimy, Matt Frewer, Christopher Lloyd, and others, and is basically unwatchable by anyone over the age of 10.
Here's the thing: The supplemental cartoons and documentary are presented in fairly low quality standard definition. That means you're being asked to pay Blu-ray prices for a 26-minute television special in high definition and some disposable extras in SD. Unless you're the biggest Horton fan in the world, I can't recommend an upgrade from the Deluxe Edition DVD, which already looks great and offers Clampett's version of "Horton Hatches the Egg," missing from the Blu-ray. After all, an extra's an extra, no matter how small.
Chuck Jones' Horton Hears a Who! is found not guilty. This Blu-ray release, however, is guilty of overcharging and under-delivering.
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* DTS HD 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 26 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Stories