I can’t say enough good things about the film version of “Horton Hears a Who!” now in theaters. I’ve generally tended to avoid these film adaptations, which stray too far from the original book and introduce strange twists, usually something designed to preach fashionable left-liberal ideology, that just end up being a bother and a distraction.
None of this is true of Horton. Yes, it elaborates on the original but in seamless ways that actually end up enhancing the value of the story.
Horton, of course, is the elephant who hears a sound on a tin speck and begins a communication with the mayor of the town on the spec. He swears fidelity to the tiny town and aspires to place the speck in a safe place. But others in the jungle are deeply skeptical of Horton’s claims. Led by a marmish Kangaroo — who holds no elected office but everyone fears her in any case — the mobs go after him until the town on the speck makes enough noise that everyone hears them.
There is one slight against homeschooling in the film that has received some attention, but it is good natured and, really, hilarious. The Kangaroo mother says that she must keep her child protected from the awful ways of other kids. She says that that this is why her child is “pouch-schooled.” Homeschoolers are a self-deprecating lot, so expect no serious protest about this.
In any case, it is a nice trade off for what ends up being a massive assault on the insanity of mob rule, which the Kangaroo ends up inciting. In both the jungle and the speck town of Whoville, the masses of people are easily swayed by demagogues. Indeed, their every mass action seems dependent on being persuaded this way or that depending on the rhetorical powers of the speaker.
In Whoville, the head of the city council, a real two-faced jerk, convinces the masses to ignore the warnings of the mayor and go on with their partying. In the jungle, everyone turns on Horton, who ends up having to pursue his mission alone. There is a lesson here that H.L. Mencken could endorse.
When the mob gathers against Horton, the argument that his cause must be ended and the speck destroyed is a familiar one: it must be done for the sake of the children! This is screamed by the marmish Kangaroo and echoed by every last animal in the forest.
When all other political arguments fail in real life, of course, this is precisely what happens. The children are rhetorically nationalized by the demagogue and anyone who disagrees is painted as an enemy of virtuous childhood. So it was in ancient Greece, so it has been in the 20th century from Hitler to Hillary (not to exclude Bush himself). At the climatic scene, the mob agrees that to let Horton get away with his imaginings and actions would amount to anarchy.
The film brings out a wonderful thing about Whoville in treating it like a capitalist utopia. Gizmos are everywhere. People are building things, so it’s not as if the town just fell from the skies. The city council doesn’t do anything but plan parties. Sounds pretty good to me. Hilariously, the kids beg for Whophones from the parents because all the other kids have them. Secretaries wile away the hours at the office working on their Whospace web pages. At some point, someone denounces the practice of adding “who” to everything as a way of giving it legitimacy — an obvious reference to Apple and the iPhone etc.
I gather that Dr. Seuss has the reputation for leftism of some sort, but this film brings out a side of him that might even be characterized as individualist anarchism. “A person is a person, no matter how small.” We have here and in the movie generally a strong message against collectivism, authoritarianism, nationalism, and democratic political decision making. It is suitable in every way for all ages.
Even aside from the politics, this is just great filmmaking, beautiful in every way. I found myself doubled over in laughter more than a dozen times. This film is a joy in every way.