It might not be the most groundbreaking animated movie in recent years, but the bright and bighearted new adaptation of the 1954 Dr. Seuss classic "Horton Hears a Who!" certainly hits its target.
Without resorting to the crude comedy and shrill theatrics of the most recent live-action Dr. Seuss adaptations, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "The Cat in the Hat," directors Steve Martino and Jimmy Hayward vividly bring to life the author's off-kilter universe.
They also remain deeply faithful to Seuss' original story, a quietly spiritual fable about learning to believe in a higher power.
One day while frolicking in the jungle, Horton (voice by Jim Carrey), a lovably sensitive elephant, hears a noise coming from a tiny speck of dust in the air. When he chases it and captures it on the head of a bright-pink clover, he discovers the truth: Living inside that speck is an entire breed of cherubic creatures known as Whos, the residents of microscopic Whoville.
The Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) is a particularly adorable creation -- an eccentric father (of 99 daughters and one very quiet boy) -- who becomes convinced that the weather disturbances are signs pointing to the end of Who civilization.
Splendidly narrated by newsman Charles Osgood, the film follows what happens when Horton and The Mayor find a way to communicate. The Mayor learns that Whoville could be destroyed in an instant and attempts to warn his fellow citizens. But in Whoville, nothing has ever before gone wrong -- and so no one pays the Mayor any heed.
For his part, Horton determines to carry the speck of dust to safety. But he soon finds himself subject to widespread ridicule, especially from Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett), who doesn't want Horton spreading his fantastical ideas about alternative universes.
It doesn't take much effort to discern a religious message here; Dr. Seuss seemed to be arguing against both the dogmatists who insist on shoving their beliefs down others' throats and the agnostics who refuse to accept that a godlike invisible elephant might very well be controlling our fates.
"A person's a person, no matter how small," Dr. Seuss famously wrote. Accordingly, "Horton Hears a Who!" has a little something for everyone.