Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Horton Hears a Who ha ha!

The Juice on the new Seuss Movie

For the first time a motion picture transports audiences into Dr. Seuss’ incredible imagination, through state of the art CG animation. Dr Seuss’ HORTON HEARS A WHO! is Seuss as you want to experience his work at the movies – and as it was meant to be seen.

It starts…’On the fifteenth of May, in the jungle of Nool, in the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool. He was splashing…enjoying the jungle’s great joys…When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.

The premise is charming, but also profound. One of the largest animals our world is perhaps the only creature with ears big enough to hear the smallest sound from the smallest creatures (in another world).

Horton: There's a tiny person on that speck that needs my help!

And Horton’s rationale for taking care of the microscopic community? “A person’s a person no matter how small.” The film provides ample candy for the kids, but adults will have ample food for thought too, as Horton explains: “If you were way out in space, and you looked down at where we live, we would look like a speck.”

It is obvious that the filmmakers at Blue Sky Studios (the makers of Ice Age 1 and 2, and Robots) strove to push the CG animation as far as possible. Director’s Jimmy Hayward and Steve Marino’s mandate was to stay true to Seuss’ themes, characters and visuals. Audrey Geisel also wanted to make sure the film adaptation remained respectful of her late husband’s book. And like Horton, the filmmakers and animators bought into and invested into Seuss’ imagination, delivering consistently within that theme.

Horton: I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant remembers one hundred percent.

Director Steve Martino (with a Master’s in computer animation) brings a massive amount of expertise to this Blue Sky Studio production. The Ohio State University’s Computer Graphics Research Group was the first program of its kind to place artists with computer scientists in a collaborative environment. These intelligent collaborations were fed through to an army of animators, allowing them to build on previous skill levels to develop new animation methodologies. Jimmy Hayward co-directed, bringing Pixar expertise from projects such as “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo”.

One reviewer has described the movie as ‘Seuss on crack’. Brian Ormdorf, writing for Ohmynews International, states: ‘As throwaway as it is, "Horton Hears a Who" still shines with a fresh coat of mass-appeal shellac, just don't walk in expecting something as cozy and magical as the original book.’ While Ormdorf’s assessment makes for good looking, astute sounding writing, it’s not a fair reflection. Over 2700 people at the Internet Movie Database gave an average rating of 7.8 out of 10 for Horton. It’s also not an accurate assessment, and one wonders whether Ormdorf read much of Dr. Seuss as a child?

Heather: In my imaginary world everyone's a pony and they eat rainbows, and poop butterflies!

There is a lot of magic and mayhem in Horton, but Seuss’ worlds are filled with characters teetering unbalanced in maelstroms of chaos. Blue Sky render this with typical Seussian look and feel, but the discipline is maintained in sticking to Seuss’ designs and characters.

The directors commitment and respect to Seuss is evident in their visit to the Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego, which houses all of his original work. The author’s original art, every manuscript, even handwritten notes and annotations was carefully studied. One of the animators working on Horton, South African Dan Barker, reflected on the complete library of Seuss work that they were encouraged to refer to by Hayward and Martino. Barker also described the amount of work involved: “48 seconds took 6 months to render.”

Martino, referring to their careful assimilation of Seuss’ entire body of work, says that eventually: “…we began to get into a zone of Seussian exaggeration. It became infectious, and we began to dial into Seuss’ visual vocabulary. We would digitally brush the hair of a Who, for example, and ask, how can we do that Seuss-style? Being in his world stimulated our imaginations.”
This is exactly the thrill that audiences will take with them, when they step out of the cinema.

The filmmakers called their approach “Seussian logic” – a process that ensured every crazy gizmo and contraption was entertainingly correct. These gizmo’s included roller-bladers on stilts, unicyclists and sock-mobiles (a car with four legs, walking in socks). The filmmakers also delighted in creating the unconventional bed-modbile. Says Hayward: “you could read a book on your way to work, or catch up on some sleep.” Jo-Jo’s giant sling-shot device is another gadget that will charm and delight.

Hayward explains that in Who-ville “…gravity isn’t much of an issue…where narrow staircases with no railings spiral up into the sky, and where Who routinely walk around on the sides of giant buildings.”

Hayward goes on to describe Seussian fashions: “You’ll see lots of high tutrtlenecks and big collars.” The fur-as-fashion is distinctly Seussian.

One of the most beautiful cinematic touches in Horton was rendered by a proprietary algorithm that allowed the filmmakers to depict the wind blowing across the top of the clover field. The pink “hero’ clover in Horton’s trunk was made up of a million hairs. The ‘supporting’ clovers in the field – a beautiful, even existential scene - averaged 50 000 hairs each (even in the background).

Jim Carrey’s buy-in to the Horton flick was phenomenal. Hayward credits Jim Carrey (Carrey was also in “The Mask”) for coming up with the idea for the key scene when Horton has to cross a precarious rope bridge. Carrey asked: “If an elephant was carrying your world on a speck, where would be the worst place for the Mayor to be?” Watch the movie to find out what Carrey’s idea was!

Steve Carell previously performed opposite Carrey in “Bruce Almighty”. This time they are on the same side (though in entirely different worlds), with Carell (best known for “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin”) playing Who-ville’s luckless Mayor.

Six-time Emmy Award winner, Carol Burnett plays the self-appointed King of the Jungle, a loud, controlling Kangaroo Mum. Burnett describes her character as “misguided, but not evil.” Kangaroo’s hysteria revolves around one fixation: “If you can’t see something, it doesn’t exist.” Referring to her role in Horton, Burnett enthuses: “There’s something very liberating about screaming at the top of your lungs…and getting paid for it.”

An unexpected character likely to be one of the favorites is Morton the Mouse, who tries to be a voice of reason to his oversized pal. “Well, you’re talking to a clover; that doesn’t look good,” the savvy rodent advices. Morton is voiced by Seth Rogen (“Knocked Up”) who brings his special cockeyed sensibility to the role in a way that is especially Seussian.

Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) plays Vlad, a sort’ve gun for hire.
Says Will: “I’m attracted to characters that are slightly cocky and also pretty dumb. That’s a winning combination. Not for life, but for comedy.”

Audiences who go to this film will not have to listen hard to hear chuckles, snorts and guffaws throughout the movie. The unique Seussian spark will infect worldwide audiences, not only with laughter, but also that unique blend of silliness and profound sanity that is Seuss itself.

Rating: 8/10

Horton Hears A Who! releases nationwide in South Africa on March 28. To win DVD’s from Blue Sky Studio’s visit the competition page of The

Note: Additional information for this article provided by Fox Studios

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