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Who's Who
Big-name stars lend voices to Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who"

Horton Hears a Who (G)

3 1/2 stars out of 4

For the entirety of his stellar career, Dr. Seuss, aka Ted Geisel, resisted Hollywood's many overtures to adapt his books into feature films. Death didn't stop the studios from their pursuit and in 2000, Seuss' estate caved in. Luckily, Seuss never had to see Ron Howard's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" or Bo Welch's "The Cat in the Hat." He surmised any live-action adaptation of his magical children's books would be a major waste of time, and he was right.

With "Horton Hears a Who," directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino finally do the Seuss legacy proud. Making a movie without something that somewhat looks like Seuss' wholly unique artwork is an exercise in futility. The stories themselves are excellent, but it is the visuals we remember the most. With the exception of one cleverly executed nod to anime, the "Horton" filmmakers strictly adhere to Seuss' angular yet approachable style.

Most of the creative team here worked on the two "Ice Age" movies, and like those productions, the CGI animation is impressive without coming across as overly slick. Each Who character has its own look - an admirable feat considering the overall sameness of the inhabitants of Who-ville. Horton and most of his fellow jungle dwellers, on the other hand, would make for a better fit in "Ice Age." Seuss purists might have a problem with that, but it does offer a nice contrast between the two settings, and all of it is very child-friendly.

Stretching the plot of these short books into 90-minute feature films can prove to be problematic. This was certainly the case for the first two Seuss movies, which were unnecessarily fussy and frantic. The "Horton" screenwriting team of Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul take a few story padding liberties of their own, but in the end it all meshes well with the original source material.

Rather than going completely over the top as he did with the Grinch, Jim Carrey voices Horton with a warm innocence and keeps his often spastic vocal gymnastics in check. Carrey's "Bruce Almighty" co-star Steve Carell does the same thing as the mayor of Who-ville. Doing most of the heavy lifting is Carol Burnett as evil foil Kangaroo and Will Arnett as the vulture Vlad, who are quite determined to squash Horton's mission of saving the Whos.

The messages in the story - trust, inclusion, sacrifice and getting along - are made abundantly clear without getting heavy-handed. The majority of the tykes at the packed Saturday morning preview screening didn't fidget or squirm in their seats the entire time. Keeping that many viewers with such notoriously short attention spans enthralled for 90 minutes is the ultimate compliment and the purest gauge of the film's possible success at the box office.

If "Horton" does the kind of numbers everyone is expecting, that could clear the way for a movie version of "The Lorax." The 1971 book is the favorite of many Seuss loyalists but is also the author's most overtly political and controversial work. It was "green" long before being environmentally conscious became hip. The timing for a "Lorax" movie couldn't be better. If not, a hearty serving of "Green Eggs and Ham" will work just fine, thank you. (Fox)