While the works of Dr. Seuss’ hyperactive imagination have mesmerized minds worldwide, their transition to the big screen has had mixed results. Despite Jim Carrey’s amusing antics, 2000’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” never amounted to much as a whole, while 2003’s “The Cat in the Hat” was seriously flawed and critically maligned. Thankfully, the third time proves to be the charm as “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” finally gets it right.
Combining just the right amount of wackiness, comedy and heart, the film manages to entertain on almost every level. At its center is the relationship between Horton the elephant (Jim Carrey) and the microscopic mayor of Who-ville (Steve Carell), who lives in a speck on a flower. While taking a swim, Horton hears a faint call coming from the speck, discovers the mayor and takes it upon himself to find a new home for the Whos and save them from destruction. However, there’s a slight problem – nobody in either of their respective communities believes the other exists.
Carrey and Carell, two of the funniest comedians alive, are perfectly cast in their roles and feed effortlessly off each other. Carrey is a natural fit on his first foray into animation, bottling up his typical zaniness to mold a loveable character. Meanwhile, Carell is experiencing something of a mid-Who crisis and is fun to watch scurry around trying to make sense of it all. The rest of the cast, including fantastic turns from Carol Burnett and an unrecognizable Will Arnett, also seem to fit their parts and work well together.
Turning a book that can be read in a matter of minutes into a 90-minute film is quite an ordeal. Obviously several elements have to be added and expanded upon; otherwise, it would be a very short movie. Having not read the book in many years, it was hard to distinguish between what was new and what wasn’t, but it all appeared to cohere with Dr. Seuss’ world. One thing that did stand out was how the writers chose to explore in greater depth the faith in the unseen element, which was an effective and relevant touch. The only noteworthy criticism was the ending, which was wrapped up a little too neatly and closed with a song and dance number, which is starting to get annoying.
With “Horton Hears a Who!,” Blue Sky Studios, the company behind the two “Ice Age” movies and “Robots,” has created one of the better non-Pixar animated films in recent memory. With inspired visuals, distinct characters and a cute story, it’s surprisingly well-done. In short, it’s a movie any person, no matter how big or how small, can enjoy.
It seems actor Steve Carell is sitting on top of the world these days. He’s proven himself formidable in a variety of roles, from leading man (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Evan Almighty”) to solid supporter (“Anchorman,” “Little Miss Sunshine”) to TV star (“The Office”). “Dan In Real Life” — his second movie this year — finds the former “Daily Show” correspondent bringing his trademark brand of humor to the romantic comedy genre.
In the film Carell plays Dan Burns, a widowed father who works as a newspaper columnist dispensing relationship advice. On the way to attend a family get-together, he hits it off with a charming stranger named Marie (Juliette Binoche) at a local bookstore. As it so happens, she is already dating his brother (Dane Cook) and has been asked to join the family for the gathering. The two try to play everything off as normal by keeping their encounter a secret, which results in a wild week for the entire family.
Carell has been embraced by audiences as Hollywood’s latest everyman, and he furthers that designation here. Not only is he juggling the difficulty of raising three daughters, coping with the death of his wife, and worrying about a possible job promotion, he is simultaneously trying to win the affections of Marie. This provides him the opportunity to show off a portion of his dramatic side, allowing the assortment of embarrassing proceedings to naturally evolve. Through it all, Carell’s patented penchant for awkwardness and deadpan wit remain on display, which is sure to please his expanding fan base.
The rest of the cast spend their time supporting and playing off of Carell’s talents. Oscar winner Binoche (“The English Patient,” “Chocolat”) develops a good chemistry with Carell, making the premise at least somewhat plausible. Displaying a diluted amount of the free-spiritedness of the latter film, she makes for a nice contrast with the more down-to-reality Burns family. Even though I’ve never been a huge fan of her work, her character is easy to like and a distinctive part of the cast.
Cook, who has experienced a rough transition from stand-up comic to leading man, demonstrates he can actually act when given the chance. His role is one of the more serious ones he’s tackled and, by leaving most of the comedy to Carell and the others, frees him up to focus on the character. While it’s far from an Oscar worthy performance, it indicates he may have a career in acting after all.
While the film incorporates a higher dose of realistic drama than your average romantic comedy, it still exhibits many of its familiar traits. From the opening outset, it’s easy to predict how things will play out, and it never deviates from this expected outcome.
However, director Peter Hedges (“Pieces Of April”) has injected the right combination of heart and warmth so that we don’t mind retracing this familiar territory. His depiction of family and characters is easy to relate to and care for, despite whatever disagreements or peculiarities they might possess. In a time when America is being torn apart by dysfunctional households, it’s refreshing to see one portrayed that supports and looks out for one another.
In the midst of the family dynamics, the film is not without its fair share of laughs. While it is never overtly over-the-top like many recent comedies, Carell remains in his element the entire time, and the part proves to be another step in the right direction for creating an enduring career. Count this as another fine feather in Carell’s rapidly filling hat.