Friday, March 14, 2008

Horton Hears a Who (but you have to hear it from me first!)

When I first heard that Blue Sky Studios was adapting Horton Hears a Who! into a full-length animated film, I had my doubts. But after tonight, those doubts have been silenced.

Since I got off for Spring Break last Friday, I've felt a little down. SVA's students have break a week earlier than the other schools, so all my friends will have off next week while I'll be going back. I've been extremely lonely & alone, even to the point where the closest thing that could cheer me up was to just walk around town in the cold for hours. Tonight, I went to the movies (alone) feeling down & the film actually cheered me up a bit. In the end, I walked out of the theater feeling satisfied & happier than when I went in.

When you're a cartoonist/animator like I am, you're already well aware of Dr. Seuss & his stories. I grew up with Seuss, & his drawings & stories have inspired me very much. One of my initial doubts when I heard about Blue Sky's Horton adaption was "How are they gonna pull of that Seuss style I know & love?". First off, Blue Sky already has the right idea: animation is the ONLY way you can bring Seuss to life. I kinda liked the live-action Grinch, but I despised the live-action Cat in the Hat. To me, no amount of CGI effects or makeup can make a live-action film do the impossible, which is what Seuss is all about (although Jim Carrey's green makeover was pretty cool).

Then there's the 2 types of animated Seuss adaptions: the cartoons that vaguely resemble Seuss & the somewhat-true to the book/style Seuss cartoons. Bob Clampett's Horton Hatches the Egg back in the early 40's was the first animated Seuss story, but while Clampett did try to keep at least some of that Seuss look, the characters & gags are not Seuss at all. Horton comes off as a Looney Tune like Bugs or Daffy. Then there's Chuck Jones' takes on Seuss: The Grinch (which we all know & love) & his own version of Horton Hears a Who!. With Grinch, the story is true, but the cartoon is all in Chuck Jones/Maurice Noble styling, which is very appealing in it's own right, but for Seuss' sake, not quite Seuss enough. With Horton, there's a bit more Seussiness in the look of the characters & the story, but they still come off with Jones' designs & timing. Still, I think Chuck's Horton is probably one of the most true adaptions of Seuss I've seen.

Back to Blue Sky's Seuss: like I said, I was skeptical when the movie was first announced, but after seeing a maquette of Vlad the vulture & these two pictures of the Mayor of Whoville & Horton:

... I knew that the Blue Sky team had the Seuss-style down pat & that they knew what they were doing (even though I didn't quite understand why Horton had crow's feet). Luckily, the character models have been altered a bit since these screens were leaked over a year ago, so Horton & the Mayor don't quite look as "over-the-hill" as they do here.

A lot of CG films like Madagascar tried to pull off the wacky, spontaneous actions you find in classic cartoons like squash & stretch & blur/streak effects, but they still come off as stiff & rigid characters. With Horton, they finally pulled it off, & flawlessly. The animation in Horton has some of the best CG animation I've ever seen, especially in the the animation of Vlad & the Mayor. After seeing the TV ad when the Mayor screams in agony over a stapler to the head, I knew as an animator that I was in for a treat. We eat that up like it was going out of style. & don't worry traditional animation fans, there's a few treats for you in there, too!

Now on to the voices: now when I think "Horton", I think of a timid yet lovable type, having a small voice but with big things to say. The Clampett Horton was too much of a "DUH...Which way did he go George..." type of voice, while Hans Conreid's voice for Chuck Jones' Horton was spot on. When I first saw/heard Jim Carrey going through his "funny hats" line in the teaser trailer, I thought that was a really bad move. The idea of Ace Ventura in an elephant suit freaking out all over the place was a really hard to think about. I thought somebody like Albert Brooks would play a better Horton than Jim Carrey.

But now after seeing the movie, I think Carrey's performance was perfect. He put a lot of heart into the role & that made the character extremely appealing & likable. & on top of that, Carrey himself is a die hard Seuss fan, so he knew what he was putting his voice to. Steve Carell & Carol Burnett's performances were great too. I'm usually not a fan of studios using big name actors as voices in animated films, but in this case I can make an exception. Blue Sky made the right choices in choosing the voice talent for the film. At times, you forget that they're Steve Carell or Jim Carrey.

I'm not the kind of person who really laughs at a movie & I could probably count the number of times a movie has made me laugh out loud with one hand, but this film did make me laugh out loud a few times. & if I laughed, then chances are every single person in the theater would be laughing twice as hard as I was twice the amount of time. Unlike a lot of films like Shrek, Horton doesn't have to stoop so low as to use pop-culture references or fart jokes to get a laugh (in fact, there's not a single fart joke throughout the entire movie, it's a freakin' miracle!). Sure, some jokes may be a bit lowbrow to some, but they aren't unbearable. & unlike Shrek, these jokes will not date the film. This film shall live on through the ages!

In the end, I was very satisfied with the film. It blew my expectations clear through the stratosphere (& that's a good thing). & I know there are a lot of people out there who'll look at the film in a negative light & say that it's not true to Seuss, or something about them using big name actors or whatever... hey, if you're a kid, chances are you'll enjoy it. But don't let me tell you how great the movie was... go see Horton Hears a Who! yourself! & while you're at it, come back here & tell me what you thought of Horton in comment form

But as for Blue Sky's next planned Seuss film, Green Eggs & Ham, I don't quite know how they'll pull that one off. We'll see how that turns out a few years down the road.

*P.S.* Since I came back from the movies, I've drawn pages of Horton-themed sketches to help break apart the long stretch of words I had to say about the film. But my scanner here at home is on the fritz, so I can't post them. When I get back to SVA on Monday or Tuesday, I'll post them then. 'Til then, imagine how great they look between all those white letters!


Weirdo said...

Are they actually planning to do "Green Eggs and Ham"? Are they going to give the Green Eggs and Ham hater a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by memories of parents who fed him things he didn't like? That would be a bit ridiculous.

thedoreenster said...

awww why sad and lonely? i think it's this time of year - it messes with your head. i'm always in the city,though, and don't mind dragging you around somewhere if need be. i'm always just an email away (or social networking site message) away! ;]

Michael J. Ruocco said...

Weirdo! - They have a list of upcoming features, & alongside "Ice Age III" & "Robots II", "Green Eggs & Ham" were there clear as day. Who knows, it might be just a short for the Horton DVD or something, but only time will tell what the truth really is.

The only way I can imagine Green Eggs & Ham being a full length movie is if it's one of those "chase around the world" type of movies like 'Catch Me If You Can'. I can clearly imagine in my head Sam I Am & the other guy fighting on top of a train with a plate of you-know-what with foxes & boxes around.

Doreen! - Maybe you're right, it may just be that time of the year where people feel down in the dumps. I just don't understand why everybody else seems so cheerful & happy while I'm feeling the exact opposite. Maybe it's because I have a slight fear of impending doom? Or that I feel like I'm useless? Maybe it's the lack of a romantic relationship? Who knows?

Thanks for the comments guys! It's my favorite site to see!

patrick said...

Dr. Seuss is classic, i forgot how much that guy packed into such simple storylines... they didn't add much to the original story either except for the usual Jim Carreyisms.