Seeing a Horton who Hears a Who
Took the gals to see Horton Hears a Who on Saturday (and I wasn’t the only one). The ProJo gave it 5 *s. I don’t know if it was that good, but it was pretty good. The kids enjoyed it, though it may have skewed a bit young for them, and there were enough pop-culture references to keep me mildly amused, though their post-modern “irony” may annoy some (a Henry Kissinger impression?).
Anyone familiar with the book knows the plot: Big Elephant hears people on tiny world located in speck of dust on top of a flower, no one believes him (no one else has Horton’s elephantine hearing) and Horton tries to protect said world from calamity. The subplot surrounding the Mayor of Whoville (leader of the dust-folk, if you will) is essentially the same as the main plot surrounding Horton–no one believes the Mayor is in contact with a giant, invisible elephant in the sky. There is also the requisite cool relationship between the Mayor and his one non-communicative son, who doesn’t want to be Mayor like Pops. This is resolved predictably, but sweetly.
Back to Horton. He’s a school teacher whose chief antagonist is a priggish Kangaroo who “home-schools” her kid (er, joey) in her, well, pouch. Badump-bump. A culturally or politically aware parent will see this as the zing at homeschooling (and the presumed demographic that make up home-schoolers–religious conservatives) it’s intended to be. But there is a whole lot more subtle criticism aimed in other directions–whether the filmmakers intended it or not.
The Kangaroo is mostly ticked off at Horton because he can’t prove that the Who’s living in that speck of dust really exist, but he still persists in claiming it to be true. His faith is unprovable, you see. Eventually, the Kangaroo’s mildly annoyed comments turn alarmist when Horton’s students start to claim they have also discovered “worlds” in flowers. She warns the other animals that Horton is going to do long-lasting damage to the children by teaching to believe in what they can’t see, feel or hear. That Horton has to be stopped!
At first, Kangaroo attempts to get a humorously creepy bird to do her dirty work (he fails). Eventually, though, she manages to rile up the rest of the jungle creatures to stop Horton. Her clarion call? “For the children!” The ensuing stampede, complete with an army of monkeys, ends in Horton being captured….but all ends well. Horton even forgives the marsupial. But I was left wondering: does anyone know if Hillary Clinton has a pouch?
I jest only slightly. The Kangaroo character is more than just the archetypal busy-body who knows what’s best for everyone. She doesn’t just ridicule Horton for believing in what she finds unprovable, she actively seeks to take him down and destroy the object of his “faith.” She appeals to emotion by using the welfare of the children as her call to arms to get her fellow animals moving. She even tries to use a bad bird to achieve what she perceives to be a noble end. Any means possible is acceptable in an effort to achieve the “right” outcome, you know.
Though the filmmakers may have intended the Kangaroo to be a stereotypical, hidebound conservative conformist, the character can also be interpreted to be an elitist who thinks she knows what’s best for everyone and will go to great lengths to ensure her solution is enforced. Then again, it was just a kid’s cartoon. But if my kids ask me about the deeper socio-political meaning of Horton, I’ll be ready!