Fox // 2008 // 86 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 18th, 2008
One Elephant. One World. One Story.
"In my world everyone is a pony, and they all eat rainbows, and poop butterflys."
Once upon a time, there was this fabulously friendly elephant named Horton (Jim Carrey, Liar, Liar). He was a likable fellow, and a very observant one. During one particularly observant moment, he heard a very small voice coming from a very small speck on a very small flower. The voice belonged to a little creature called a Who, the little speck was called Whoville, and Horton quickly became friends with the tiny people he couldn't see. Then, some crazy monkeys started throwing bananas at Horton, and Horton referenced Apocalypse Now by saying that he "loves the smell of bananas in the morning." Then he made references to Henry Kissinger, John F. Kennedy, and other politicians of the Cold War era. Because that's just how Horton likes to play up in his hip jungle hizzouse.
Did you sense a level of disconnect in that first paragraph? If not, you're probably quite young and have gotten much too familiar with the idea that simple children's stories should always be mixed with pop culture references and lame attempts at "connecting with modern audiences." If you did sense a disconnect, you will probably feel the same way about this film that I did. It will interest you, then make you roll your eyes. Then interest, then more eye-rolling. It goes on and on, until your face starts to resemble that of Jim Carrey, who voices Horton the Elephant as if he were Horton the Laughing Hyena (or even Horton, Pet Detective).
You may very well be familiar with the original Dr. Seuss story, which tells that tale of the time that Horton the Elephant saved all of the Whos from a bunch of idiotic jungle creatures with closed minds. That's all here, along with Horton's two very worthwhile mottos: The first is, "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant...an elephant's faithful, one hundred percent." The second is, "A person's a person, no matter how small." As in the original books, there are some lovely lessons about being willing to believe in things that you can't see, hear, or touch, as well as messages about viewing everyone equally, no matter how big or small they may be.
Were those heartfelt Dr. Seuss messages at the center of this film, I might be inclined to give it a pass. Carrey is annoying, but the other voice work (from the likes of Steve Carell, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Seth Rogan, and Isla Fisher) is pretty good, John Powell's energetic score is a winner, and the animation is as busy and complex as the work Fox did on Robots. However, the should-be-short story is drowned in a sea of cornball jokes, weak added dialogue, and a desire to trivialize the film's strongest moments. After an ending that could have been genuinely touching, the film concludes on a silly pop song sung by the cast that is designed to make kids cheer and forget about everything that happened before the wacky conclusion. As a Dr. Seuss adaptation, it's better than the other two (that terribly misguided take on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unspeakably awful The Cat and the Hat), but still not quite good enough. As a way to pass time with the kids, I guess you could do considerably worse.
The film really is quite a rich visual experience, and those unable to pick up the undoubtedly glorious Blu-ray version will be pleased to know that the DVD benefits from an excellent transfer. Though some of the little details are lost in 480p, colors are vibrant and the image is very sharp. Blacks are pretty deep, too. The image doesn't quite leap off the screen, but it's very respectable in pretty much every way. The same applies to the sound, which offers a nice balance between John Powell's delicious score, dialogue, and the very busy sound design. Nothing important gets buried or overblown here. It's a pretty rich listening experience. I'm quite pleased with everything in the A/V department.
Thankfully, this release was not called a "Two-Disc Special Edition" but rather a "Digital Copy Special Edition." Technically, both terms are accurate, but I hate it when the second disc turns out to be nothing more than a boring old digital copy of the movie. At least the packaging isn't misleading in any way this time. However, I was pleased to discover that Disc 1 is positively jam-packed with supplements. We kick things off with an audio commentary from directors Jimmy Howard and Steve Martino, which is an engaging behind-the-scenes conversation about what goes into making an animated film. The guys are a little self-congratulatory at times, but there's nothing wrong with being in love with one's own film. Aside from the digital copy of the film on Disc 2, the feature promoted on the packaging is a 7-minute Ice Age short film called "Surviving Sid." Though I like Sid and the Ice Age universe just fine, I found this to be a tiresome, unfunny short. It plays more like a should-have-been-deleted-scene from Ice Age 2 than an original short film. Disappointing, particularly when constrasted with something like the recent "Burn-E" on the Wall-E DVD.
Speaking of Ice Age, we also get a sneak peek at Ice Age 3. Looks like more of the same, kids. Next up, we get about a minute of almost-fully-animated deleted footage (you also have the option to watch rougher versions of this material), along with some early animated screen tests of the major characters. Numerous featurettes are also onhand for your viewing pleasure. We begin with "Bringing the Characters to Life" (5 minutes), which talks about why each actor was chosen for their respective role. Those interested in the animation process will want to take a look at "That's One Big Elephant: Animating Horton" (8 minutes), a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the more technical aspects of the film. "Meet Katie" (3 minutes) examines the creation of a cute supporting character, while "Bringing Seuss to the Screen" (6 minutes) features the directors talking about trying to incorporate Mr. Geisel's visual style into the film. "The Elephant in the Room: Jim Carrey" (5 minutes) is a quick interview with Star #1, and "A Person is a Person: A Universal Message" (3 minutes) is an even quicker interview with Star #2. That's all you're going to hear from those guys. "Our Speck: Where Do We Fit In" (4 minutes) veers into kiddie territory, and features a bunch of kids talking about their ideal world. "No parents and lots of ice cream! Yay!" Kids will also like the 5-minute "Elephant Fun: The Facts," which talks about conservation and elephants in a kid-friendly manner. Finally, we're treated to a lame DVD game, some DVD-ROM interactive animation, and a handful of trailers. Overall, a typical case of quantity over quality.
A not-bad DVD release of a so-so animated film. Kids will enjoy it, parents might like a few parts here and there, but you're better off sticking with the lovely half-hour television adaptation.
A verdict of "guilty" seems a bit strong in this case, but so does
"not guilty." So, this cowardly judge is calling in sick, and will
allow discerning parents to make their own call.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* "Surviving Sid" short film
* Deleted Footage
* Animation Tests
* Interactive Game
* DVD-Rom Activity
* Digital Copy