Studio:Warner Home Video Year: 1970 Cast: Hans Conreid, Chuck Jones, June Foray, The Mellomen Director: Chuck Jones Release Date: October 06, 2009 Rating: NR for (some Seussian language) Run Time: 00h:24m:00s Genre(s): television, animation
"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant: an elephant's faithful, 100 percent." - Horton (Hans Conreid)
Horton Hears a Who isn't quite the childhood classic I remembered it to be, but even if I loved it, I might advise against upgrading to Blu-ray, if only to keep the terrible bonus TV special In Search of Dr. Seuss out of your home and DVD player.
Movie Grade: B-
DVD Grade: B+
Theodore "Dr. Seuss" Geisel has been dead for nearly 20 years, but he's never really gone away. Something like a dozen of his books are all-time bestsellers on the childhood charts and not even the horrendous live-action adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat managed to dull the shine of the stories or their celebrated animated adaptations. The latter was so ill-conceived, however (Mike Meyers cracking erection jokes while clad in a hideous cat getup?), that Geisel's widow swore off any more non-animated adaptations.
Her decision was a wise one, and 2008's computer animated take on Horton Hears a Who (with Jim Carrey, making a much more tolerable voice of Horton than an embodied Grinch) was actually pretty darn faithful to the source material, despite obvious padding and pop-culture humor. With the new take in mind, I revisited the 1970 traditionally animated version from the legendary Chuck Jones and... came away a little disappointed.
Like everyone else, I grew up on Dr. Seuss books and Jones' own How the Grinch Stole Christmas animated special, but, while familiar, Horton Hears a Who was never a favorite. The story is dutifully recreated here, as affable elephant Horton overhears cries for help emanating from a tiny dust speck and learns it contains an entire world of inhabitants. He makes it his mission to protect the speck, even as the rest of the jungle denizens, including the particularly vindictive Sour Kangaroo and her offspring, insist that he's making the whole thing up and seek to destroy the speck.
In book form, it's a cute story with a good message, delivered in Seuss' patented, tongue-twisting cadences ("A person's a person, no matter how small," Horton repeats). Stretched to fill half an hour, it doesn't hold up as well (I know, I know, I just praised the 85-minute CGI movie, but that version expands the narrative by focusing more on the Whos and their predicament, barely touched on in the book). The songs are largely unmemorable—there's nary a You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch to be found—and narrator Hans Conreid lacks the ineffable gravitas Boris Karloff brought to The Grinch. After a while, you can't help but wonder why everyone in the jungle is being so mean to Horton, and watching him being tortured (at one point he's described as "half-dead" with exhaustion) grows tiresome and the abrupt ending is unsatisfying.
I know, the cartoon is just following the book, but there's a big difference between reading a short storybook aloud and submitting to a 25-minute cartoon, and Horton, despite the best efforts of Chuck Jones, is a little dull. Fine for Seuss completists, but hardly a classic on the level of some of the other specials. Not to be a Grinch about it.
The DVD: Another in a recent spate of HD classic animation reissues from Warner Bros., Horton Hears a Who looks pretty darn good on Blu-ray. Maybe a little too good: subjected to 1080p resolution, all the flaws in the original animation, from inconsistent colors to incomplete lines, are clear as a bell. And though the picture has been cleaned up, HD also reveals some dirt and print flaws that might otherwise blend into a faded image. Still, color and detail are much improved, a fact clearly revealed via comparison to the standard DVD edition included with your purchase. Both versions use the same DD 2.0 soundtrack, which is ok, though the songs are noticeably quieter than the dialogue.
The best of the bonus material is another Seuss animated adaptation, 1989's Butter Battle Book, directed by Ralph Bakshi. A controversial parable about the Cold War and mutually assured destruction, it doesn't feel quite a relevant today, but just give it a few years. The lesser-known Daisy-Head Mayzie, a special produced by Hanna-Barbera in 1995 and based on a book not published until after Geisel's death, stars a girl who sprouts a flower from her head and becomes an object of ridicule, then a celebrity. It lacks some of the charm of the classic stories, but its still unmistakably Seussian.
Then there's the matter of the feature-length In Search of Dr. Seuss, which tries desperately to be Seussian and, in the tradition of pretty much every live-action adaptation of Geisel's books, just winds up flat-out embarrassing. The star-studded production (well, star-sprinkled at least—yeah, you've got Patrick Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams, but also Kathy Najimy) is a pseudo-documentary about the author, starring Najimy as a reporter who ventures into Seuss Land to research the doctor's life and works. Stringing together repurposed clips from previous adaptations and utterly baffling "celebrity skits," the production is obnoxiously overdone and likely insufferable for anyone over the age of five. Anyone under the age of five would be better served by a little Seuss read-along story time with mom or dad.
Video quality for the two animated specials is fine, but In Search of looks like a bad VHS dub. There's also a follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-a-long of Horton songs.