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SCENE STEALER: ‘Horton Hears a Who’

By Ron Magid, Special to The Times

Listen. Is that really a Who that Horton hears, or is it the collective sigh of relief from audiences tired of the painfully earthbound sight of actors in funny suits trying to re-create the outlandish characters of Dr. Seuss on screen?

“Horton Hears a Who” proves that much like the elephant himself, animators, too, can be faithful, 100% -- even if that means losing sight of megastars Jim Carrey and Steve Carell underneath their 3-D animated alter egos (Horton and the mayor of Whoville, respectively). Though 20th Century Fox may have been concerned that the animated characters resembled Seuss’ beloved drawings rather than its A-list performers, the studio deferred to directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino. After all, does anyone really want to see “Carrey Hears a Carell”? (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.)
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“These are characters we know and love, so we were trying to be faithful to the book and the best way was to not change anything,” says Blue Sky Studios art director Thomas Cardone, whose diverse résumé includes stop motion animation (“The Nightmare Before Christmas”), traditional cel animation (“The Emperor’s New Groove”) and 3-D animation (“Ice Age: The Meltdown”).

The result? The first truly Seussian cinema, as opposed to the live-action costumed Carrey in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and Mike Myers in “The Cat in the Hat.” Not that the “Horton” actors don’t shine from within. “Every now and then their expressions come through, but we never attempted to caricature Jim Carrey or Steve Carell,” Cardone says. “We wanted you to get lost in the movie and accept the characters for who they are rather than associate them with someone else.” (20th Century Fox / Blue Sky Studios / AP)
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Of course, some things had to be changed by necessity -- the book’s minimalist color palette was expanded but the integrity of the toupee-covered hills and off-kilter Jungle of Nool remain.

“There were certain things we wanted to push, like Horton’s size,” Cardone says. “We tried to keep his original proportions but also make him feel like a big elephant. You’ll see differences if you look at the book, but we really tried to remain faithful to what we all remember him looking like.”

In the end, Blue Sky’s artists held onto the elements they loved about the characters and their world as portrayed by Seuss. “He breaks rules of gravity, nothing’s ever perfectly balanced and he pushes caricature,” Cardone says. “But you’d be amazed how easily you can break the Seuss feeling by going too cartoony or too computer.” (20th Century Fox / Blue Sky Studios / AP)