Horton Hears a Who! is a 1954 children's book by Dr. Seuss that tells the tale of how Horton the Elephant will protect a speck at all costs, believing that a whole city of people exists on it. Though the entire Jungle of Nool derides him for it, he holds on to his belief and must protect the speck with the town of Whoville, facing against a Sour Kangaroo and her friends trying to rid of it.
Rare for Seuss, the book is a sequel to his 1940 Breakthrough Hit Horton Hatches the Egg. It was dedicated to a Japanese friend of the author, Mitsugi Nakamura. In fact, Seuss intended for the story to serve as a metaphor for the Allied occupation of Japan following World War II.
The book was eventually adapted into a 1970 animated special by MGM Animation/Visual Arts. Later on, a 2008 animated film from Blue Sky Studios was released that changes and expands on a lot of aspects of the book. The book's plot also makes up a sizable part of the plot of the stage musical Seussical.
Horton Hears a Who provides examples of:
- Acoustic License: The climax of the story has the entire worldwide (speckwide?) population of Whos making as much noise as they can in a last ditch attempt to be heard by animals other than Horton. It doesn't work, until the addition of the shout of one small child makes all the difference.
- Baby See, Baby Do: In the book and special, the joey in Sour Kangaroo's pouch imitates his mother's "Humph".
- Big Good: Horton, simply because the city of Whoville resides on a speck, in the Jungle of Nool. Resident empathetic elephant is thus enormous compared to them, unfortunately, so is local control-freak Sour Kangaroo.
- Cassandra Truth: Horton's practically the Trope Codifier for people who read this book as a child.
- Same goes for the main Who, who can't get anyone else in town to believe they are on a speck of dust until the bird drops the clover.
- Central Theme: A person's a person, no matter how small.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Horton's elephant-bird child from the previous story doesn't appear at all in this.
- Cosmic Horror Story: From our perspective it looks like animals and a tiny world, but from the whos' perspective they are on a planet that could be destroyed at any minute by cosmic forces too powerful to comprehend, complete with entities so big and powerful that they see the planet as a mere speck of dust. (Except for Horton, who learns to care about their tiny planet.)
- Cloudcuckoolander: Subverted in the book and in Seussical because everyone in the Jungle of Nool thinks that Horton is a tad off his rocker for hearing a Who.
- Defeat Means Friendship
- Determinator: Horton. Sour kangaroos, weak bridges, open valleys, villainous vultures, flat cliffs, snowy mountain tops, losing the speck amongst miles of similar-looking clovers, and mobs of animals trying to rope and cage him, will. Not. Make. Him. Stop. Physically or emotionally - despite people telling him to stop believing in the Whos, Horton doesn't stop.
- An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent.
- The Sour Kangaroo is equally determined to stop Horton, to the point of siccing an angry mob on him.
- Disproportionate Restitution: Horton, after being vindicated after the Whos are confirmed to exist, Easily Forgives the other animals that harassed him the entire story without getting so much as an apology. The book and 2008 film at least implies the kangaroos will help protect the Whos as redemption, though in the 1970 animated special all he gets is a musical number before the animals make their leave.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Sour Kangaroo is the queen of this.
- Easily Forgiven: All the "villains".
- Emo Teen: Jojo.
- Gut Punch: The reveal that Vlad has just dropped the clover containing Whoville into a thousand-mile-wide patch of identical clovers.
- Happily Ever After
- The Last Straw: In all versions of the story, Jojo's shout ("YOPP!") is the final sound that pushes the sounds of the Whos bursting out of the clover.
- Lilliputians: Whos, who are only a few microns high.
- Maniac Monkeys: The Wickersham brothers.
- Misplaced Wildlife: Kangaroos in the same jungle as elephants and apes. Also, people on a dust speck, when you think about it...
- The film also has Mrs. Quilligan, a Russian Palooski, in the tropical Jungle of Nool.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: Vlad drops Horton's clover into a field of clovers, and Horton has to sort through over 3 million clovers to find it.
- Recursive Reality: Horton discovers a whole world in a tiny dust speck.
- Repetitive Name: Vlad Vladikoff.
- Wham Shot: The Reveal that Vlad has just dropped the clover containing Whoville into a thousand-mile wide field of clovers.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Jane Kangaroo, due to lack of evidence, only recognizes Horton's claims as nonsense to disturb the peace in Nool. The Kangaroo and her cronies' actions to preserve this peace leads them to the point they would unwittingly commit genocide to relieve Horton of an apparent self-destructive delusion.
- The 1970 Wickersham Brothers are especially this. While the book originals are following the command of the Sour Kangaroo out of her authority, the special's Brothers are defensive patriots wholeheartedly going against what they perceive as an insidious, seditious conspiracy against the ways of life for everyone in the jungle.