A beloved children's book first published 50 years ago has been made into a computer-animated feature film with the comic actors Jim Carrey and Steve Carell as the voices of the main characters. Alan Silverman spoke with the stars for this look at Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who!
It starts out as an ordinary day for the mayor of Who-ville, but soon his whole world is turned upside-down ...literally. But wait, that's not the beginning. It starts out like this:
"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."
Much to the chagrin of the other creatures of Nool ...especially the kangaroo, who is adamant about preserving the traditional order of life in the jungle ...imaginative Horton believes there are tiny beings living on the speck precariously perched on a clover blossom. And he's right.
After the mayor tells him about all about the people in Who-ville, Horton is determined to protect them and the speck on which they live ...even though everyone in the jungle, including his friends, tells Horton to ignore the tiny voices.
"I wanted to be the type of elephant that didn't realize he was enormous and bulky," explains Jim Carrey, who plays Horton. Carrey says his take on Horton ...taken right from the book ...is curious and caring, no matter how big he looks.
"He was 'light as a feather', as he puts it. He was like a dancer. In his head he is not bigger than anybody else," Carrey says. "That's where I wanted to come (from) with that character. Maybe it is an inferiority complex, I don't know, but he doesn't feel like he's bigger. He could do a lot of damage if he wanted to; but he doesn't feel like he has that power. He feels equal to everybody."
So Horton treats the microscopic residents of Who-ville as equals because, as he proclaims, "a person's a person no matter how small."
Steve Carell, the voice of Who-ville's mayor, says children have had no trouble getting the message since the book was first published more than 50 years ago.
"This is a book that, I think, resonates with kids," Carrell says. "They don't understand the metaphors and richness to it, but at the same time, it resonates. There is something very specific about the theme that I think even a little kid can understand: and that is that everyone deserves an equal footing in life. I think that's just a very basic tenet of being a creature of the world."
Carrey believes the vivid imagination in the books by Theodore Geisel - "Dr. Seuss" - is what brings new generations of children to the stories and is the spirit that drives the film.
"I think as far as kids go, the thing that attracts them to this is not the deeper concepts involved," Carrey says. "It's really just the fact that Seuss's creativity was so incredible. He was such an original and if you give a kid a character that he has never seen before in world he has never seen before they are able to completely lose themselves in it in an imaginary space; yet at the same time they are getting all those wonderful lessons."
Carell adds that the theme of tolerance - "a person's a person, no matter how small" - is as relevant today as it was when the book first appeared in 1954.
"Without getting too deep or too heavy with it because, after all, it's a family movie ...it's fun, it's funny, it's exciting, it's silly ...but within that there is a very true and pure theme to it," he says.
Horton Hears A Who! also features the voices of Carol Burnett, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett and Isla Fisher. The narrator is veteran news anchor and poet Charles Osgood. The film is directed by Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino.