Grampa sees a Horton
Way back in 1954 in an era when television was still relatively new and home computers were the stuff of science fiction, Random House published "Horton Hears a Who!" by Theodor S. Geisel, whom the world knew and loved as Dr. Seuss.
All in all Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated 44 books "for children ... and their lucky parents," as it says on the orange-red cover of the copy of "Horton Hears a Who!" that I borrowed from my grandson.
You can add to that: "and their lucky grandparents." And while you're at it, you should also add: "and lucky filmmakers." The film version of "Horton" that premiered in theaters on March 14 has been holding onto its No. 1 position at the box office with opening weekend returns somewhere in the neighborhood of $45 million.
My oldest grandson, who is 6 and who loaned me his book, saw the movie with his father when it first opened. His younger brother, who is 3, has seen a lot of DVDs and videos at home, but had yet to see a movie on the big screen.
The timing seemed right, so with their parents' blessings, grampa took both grandchildren to the theater to see "Horton Hears a Who!"
We were the first to arrive, which made the older boy a little concerned. It also made me wonder where the $45 million came from if the show played to such small audiences.
By the time the previews started, the audience had grown to a whopping 12 or so folks of varying ages. A handful of older teenage boys sat in front of us and politely moved to the side so my short guys could see the screen.
The original book is somewhat spare as far as the story line goes. A lovable elephant named Horton, who also appears in the book "Horton Hatches the Egg," is shown on the first page sitting in a pond, eyes closed, and spraying himself with water. The page is rendered in the familiar black and white pen and ink drawing style of Dr. Seuss, with touches of red or blue. Horton is white, as are all the other characters in the book.
"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 movie began with the same words and the same story line but a lot more color — Horton is grey, the jungle is a lush green and the other characters are ever color imaginable.
The animation was brilliant. And no wonder, it's the same team that produced the "Ice Age" movies. Jim Carey provided the voice of Horton and Carol Burnett was the voice of the meddlesome kangaroo.
The small noise came from a tiny speck of dust floating in the air that happened to be an entire world full of very tiny inhabitants called Whos. Their world is in danger of landing in the pond or being stepped on, and thus perishing. Horton hears a cry for help and tries to keep the speck safe from harm.
The movie takes off on its own for awhile in order to turn the 60 pages of the slim volume into a one hour and 28 minute full-length movie. The screenwriters did an admirable job filling out the lives of the residents of the jungle and the tiny people of Who-ville, particularly the mayor and his family, in a style that was very much in keeping with the wackiness of Dr. Seuss.
"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells," the good doctor once said. "Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life's realities."
The teenagers sitting in front of us also liked nonsense. They didn't come to the movie towing along their little brothers and sisters. They came with their friends and had a great time. My little guys had a great time too. And so did grampa.
There's a moral to the story and most of the characters change for the better. It turned out to be a wonderful choice for the littlest guy's first movie theater experience. He sat through the whole thing, had a good time, laughed a bit and talked about it afterward. What else could you want from a movie?
Smart-mouthed critters and rock music finales seem to have become de rigueur for children's animated films, judging from the spate of children's DVDs and videos I have seen with my grandchildren.
But, while the movie isn't exactly the 1954 book, it sure wakes up the brain cells in the most delightful way.