Warner Bros. // 1970 // 26 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 4th, 2008
"A person's a person, no matter how small." -- Horton the Elephant's motto
"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent." -- Horton the Elephant's other motto
With the release of the full-length animated theatrical film Horton Hears a Who! coming soon, the folks at Warner Brothers have decided that now would be a good time to look back at an earlier version of the story. After the success of Chuck Jones' now-classic holiday television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Jones and Dr. Suess (aka Theodore Geisel) decided to team up again. They made a similar half-hour adaptation of Dr. Seuss' delightful children's book Horton Hears a Who!, with Geisel once again providing original lyrics for songs used to add some extra flavor to the television presentation of the story. The result is a short that is the artistic equal of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a positively delightful and wonderfully made piece of entertainment that deserves to be seen by children everywhere.
If you are somehow not familiar with the story, let me get you up to speed. Horton is a very friendly elephant who lives in the jungle. One day, he hears a tiny voice coming from a speck of dust. He investigates further and discovers that there is a tiny world on that small speck of dust, populated by furry little creatures called "Whos." He befriends them but soon is met with fierce opposition when the other creatures of the jungle see him talking to a speck of dust. The other animals, convinced that Horton is crazy, determine to get rid of the speck and lock Horton up in a cage. That's not going to happen if Horton and the Whos can do something about it. After all, a person's a person, no matter how small.
As the feature-length film versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat and the Hat have proven, it's very difficult to successfully adapt Dr. Seuss' books. His whimsical rhymes and images are so very memorable; any alterations or additions are almost certainly bound to look bland in comparison. That's why I think that the half-hour animated television format is just perfect for Dr. Seuss. The traditional 2-D animation allows the animator to take Dr. Seuss' images and bring them to life, and the brief length doesn't force the director to add pointless filler to the focused stories. Of course, having Dr. Seuss on hand to adapt his books himself and write song lyrics for the television specials is one heck of a bonus, I would imagine.
While Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) provided the voice work and narration for How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the same duties are handled here by Hans Conreid (The Shaggy D.A.). The lovely score was written by Eugene Poddany, who also provides music for the songs. There are about five brief songs included in the production, my favorite of which is a song performed by a group of evil monkeys called The Wickersham Brothers (they accuse Horton of trying to ruin the economy, among many other things). Horton Hears a Who! has been beautifully remastered, too. It looks almost as a good as new and the surround stereo sound is splendid, too.
As Horton Hears a Who! only runs a scant 26 minutes, Warner Brothers has generously added a great deal of bonus features to the DVD. In fact, most of the supplements are short features themselves. Fans of Horton Hears a Who! will be very pleased to have the ten-minute 1942 Merry Melodies version of "Horton Hatches the Egg," in which our beloved elephant determines to keep an abandoned egg safe until it hatches. No, it's not at the same level of quality as Horton Hears a Who!, but it's certainly not bad, and I'm quite glad to have it here.
Dr. Seuss' Butter Battle Book was adapted for television by Dr. Seuss in 1989, and it's perhaps the most blatantly political statement Dr. Seuss ever made (with the possible exception of The Lorax). It tells the story of two groups of creatures called the Yooks and the Zooks, who hate each other for one simple reason: they each put their butter on the "wrong" side of the bread. The two sides decide to go to war, and the weapons they use continue to increase in size until they finally resort to something that is quite obviously the Dr. Seuss equivalent of an atomic bomb. The story is gentle and accessible enough for children of all ages, but nonetheless a rather chilling parable about nuclear warfare.
Daisy Head Maizy is perhaps a little bit less memorable, but nonetheless is a charming television special from 1994. Dr. Seuss once again writes the teleplay and adds songs to the story. It's about a young girl named Daisy Head Maizy, of course, and she has a daisy on her head. The daisy brings her some fame and fortune, but also a great deal of heartache and grief. Her classmates make fun of her, and Daisy finds herself a bit of an outcast simply because she is different. Not to worry, though...everything will turn out nicely for her in the end. The infamous feline known as "The Cat in the Hat" (voiced by Henry Gibson, Nashville) is here to provide narration for the story, too.
There is one real dud of an extra, though. It's a 90-minute "documentary" from 1994 called In Search of Dr. Seuss. The doc is essentially a series of live action sketches with lots of extended cartoon clips and biographical info mixed in. We follow the journey of a silly reporter (Kathy Najimy, Rat Race) who is attempting to find out more about the life and works of Dr. Seuss. Along the way, she receives helpful info from The Cat in the Hat (Matt Frewer, Intelligence), Mr. Hunch (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future), Sgt. Mulvaney (Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: First Contact), and others. There are also cameos from Robin Williams, David Paymer, Andrea Martin, and the voice of Billy Crystal. All these actors are at their most grating in this TV special and fail miserably at trying to recreate the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss. In addition, the songs (a gospel version of "Yertle the Turtle," a rap version of "Green Eggs and Ham," etc.) are obnoxious. I suppose kids of a certain age might like it, but combine the very poor video quality with the general intolerability of the doc, and you may as well skip it. Too bad they couldn't provide a proper documentary on Dr. Seuss' life.
That annoying supplement aside, this is a very fine package that is a
must-have for Dr. Seuss fans. Horton Hears a Who! is a real gem, and the
other three cartoons included here are very good, too. If that new feature film
turns out to be as much of a dud as its cinematic predecessors have been, it's
nice to know that Seuss fans have a DVD package as enjoyable as this one to fall
back on. Recommended for kids of all ages, most assuredly not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 26 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Horton Hatches the Egg!
* Dr. Seuss' Butter Battle Book
* Daisy-Head Mayzie
* In Search of Dr. Seuss Documentary
* Singalong Music Video