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Literature / Horton Hears a Who!

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"A person's a person, no matter how small."

A 1954 children's book by Dr. Seuss, adapted into a 1970 animated special by MGM Animation/Visual Arts (the studio responsible for the classic animated adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!) and a 2008 animated film from Blue Sky Studios (the creators of Ice Age). The book's plot also makes up a sizable part of the plot of the stage musical Seussical. It was dedicated to a Japanese friend, Mitsugi Nakamura. In fact, Seuss intended for the story to be a metaphor for the American occupation of Japan after World War II.

Rare for Seuss, this book is a sequel (to Horton Hatches the Egg).

Not to be confused with "Horton Hears The Who", which is a) a The Who bootleg and b) an Incredibly Lame Pun so obvious it has been made several times independently.

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     The Book and Its Adaptations 

This book and its adaptations 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.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Rudy in the movie. While in the book his character amounted to simply echoing his mother's "Humph," in the film he has a curious and skeptical personality regarding his mother's actions, even being the one to personally save the clover from falling into the beezelnut oil.
  • Ascended Extra: Jojo in both the movie and Seussical.
  • Baby See, Baby Do: In the book, the joey in Sour Kangaroo's pouch imitates his mother's "Humph".
  • Big Good: Horton, simply because the city of Whooville 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.
  • 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.
  • Crying Critters: Happens twice in the movie, first Horton breaks down crying when he's searching for the Whos in the clover field, and second Vlad cries when he witnesses an emotional moment at the end.
  • 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: How both the book and the movie reveal that Vlad has just dropped the clover containing Whoville into a thousand-mile-wide patch of identical clovers. In the book, it's a simple page turn, while in the movie, it's a dramatic camera pan, and both hit the viewer smack in the face with that massive field of solid pink.
  • Happily Ever After
  • Karma Houdini: Sour Kangaroo, especially in the movie. Word of God says that in the movie she was originally going to get much better comeuppence in the form of all the other animals turning their back on her, but the writers decided to cut that out saying that "Dr. Seuss wasn't big on revenge".
  • Lilliputians: Whos, who are only a few microns high.
  • Maniac Monkeys: The Wickersham brothers.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Kangaroos in the same jungle as elephants and monkeys.
  • Named by the Adaptation
    • Jane and Junior Kangaroo in the animated special. These names carried over to The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss.
    • Rudy Kangaroo in the movie; his mother is still just "the Sour Kangaroo". Also Mayor McDodd.
  • Narrator: Charles Osgood in the movie.
  • 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. The TV special of it has an ending in which the main Who finds another dust speck with its own world. At one point in The Movie, Horton wonders whether the universe he inhabits could itself exist as a speck of dust to another universe.
  • Repetitive Name: Vlad Vladikoff.
  • Silent Snarker: Jojo, up until he begins talking again.
  • Skyward Scream: 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.

     The 1970s Cartoon Adaptation 

The 1970s cartoon adaptation provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Vlad Vladikoff's name is changed to Whizzer McWhoff, for no apparent reason. Variations on the trope include the Sour Kangaroo becoming Jane Kangaroo and the Mayor of Whoville becoming Dr. Whovey, which would be Named by the Adaptation if not for the fact that most of the narration stays exactly the same apart from the names.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The Wickersham Brothers claim that Horton will "steal our jewels and shut our schools and even change our football rules."
  • The Cameo:
    • The Grinch! In the 1970s TV version he makes a cameo in the Who chorus near the end.
    • And the modern version: Watch the new version of the "We Are Here" chorus - if that's not the Grinch playing that tiny set of pan pipes, he's one heck of a doppelganger.
    • He also makes a cameo in Seussical.
  • Here We Go Again!: The ending to the animated special.
  • I Warned You: Inverted. The whos acknowledge themselves the massive destruction Whoville receives from being dropped from the sky by Vlad, that Dr. Hoovey had warned them that there was life beyond Whoville that could put their whole world at risk and they had not given his claims a speck (pun intended) of regard.
  • Sliding Scaleof Adaptation Modification: Type 4. The only real difference from the book is that the mayor is downgraded to a science professor named Dr. Hoovey. and a subplot is added involving the townspeople ridiculing his claims about there being life beyond Whoville and being an outcast as a result.
  • Stock Footage: The 1970 special uses this quite a bit.
  • Villain Song: The Wickersham Brothers get perhaps the catchiest number in the 1970 special. They also do some chanting when caging Horton and trying to boil the clover.
  • When She Smiles: Similar to the Grinch in Jones' previous Seuss adaptation, when they realise the Whos are real, Jane and the Wickershams, who had only grimaced or smirked for most of the cartoon before, beam an angelic and sincere smile.
  • Witch Hunt: The Wickersham Brothers in the 1970s version treat Horton like a Red Scare. "You're trying to stir up discontent, and take the reins of government..."

     The 2008 Adaptation

The 2008 adaptation provides examples of:

  • Acrofatic: For an elephant, Horton is quite graceful. He does a perfect swan dive into the river. He also climbs up a steep cliff.
  • Acting Out a Daydream: Horton imagines himself as an anime action hero and starts doing ninja moves in the real world.
  • Actor Allusion: This is not the first time Blue Sky Studios got Will Arnett to play a sinister looking bird. Extra points for both of them being vultures.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade:
    • Downplayed case, but after the Whos are confirmed to exist on the speck, the other animals are visibly not happy at all with the Sour Kangaroo for assigning them to destroy it (especially given the more vindictive measures she took against Horton in this interpretation), leaving her shunned and remorseful until Horton shows her sympathy. In the book and special, the animals merely accept and celebrate the Whos with the kangaroo Easily Forgiven.
    • Played for Laughs with the Mayor, who upon first hearing Horton, has trouble believing their co-existance, and upon finally realising, essentially has a Freak Out
  • Adaptation Expansion: The movie, as necessary to make a short children's book into a feature-length movie.
  • Adaptation Personality Change:
    • Though his retains his stoic dedication and good heart, Horton, once a soft-spoken Gentle Giant, is presented here as a spastic gag-machine (more accurately, Jim Carrey in an elephant suit). Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.
    • In the book, the joey willingly agrees with his mother's belief that a civilization cannot exist on a tiny flower. In the film, the joey (named Rudy here) is more accepting of Horton's assertions, and does not like it when Sour Kangaroo (named Jane here) accuses Horton of being crazy.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Vlad goes from a "black-bottomed eagle" to a vulture.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original story, Kangaroo was a Well-Intentioned Extremist who was grumpy, but not really much of a villain. Here, she's a straight-up sadist who cares more about her own ego than the other jungle animals, and seems to have a lot more fun in torturing Horton than she should. Not to mention being portrayed as borderline abusive toward the children that she claims to be protecting.
    • Look at the way the animals are cowering in fear of her at the beginning. Did she previously abuse them in the past?
    • And possibly genocidal (toward the Whos) as well. Notice how she tried to take the clover away from Horton even after she heard the Whos "we are here".
    • Vlad Vladikoff as well. In the original story, he didn't have much of a role. He simply just carried the clover off and dropped it. In the film, on the other hand, he's upgraded to a genuinely terrifying, dangerous, and feared character, with sharp teeth and a sadistic sense of humor. Just look at his gleeful grin when he tells Kangaroo to offer her son to him as food.
  • All-Loving Hero: Horton. He even forgives and makes peace with the Kangaroo, despite everything she's put him through.
  • Art Shift: Happens twice. The first time is a 2D animated sequence drawn completely in Seuss' distinctive style. The other is an animesque parody action sequence/daydream, complete with mouth movements that don't match up to the voices.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: When Morton warns Horton that Kangaroo has sent Vlad to destroy the clover.
    Horton: Is it the Bad Vlad or the Bunny Vlad that makes the cookies?
    Morton: Yeah Horton. She's sending you a bunny with cookies. I think we can assume it's the Bad Vlad!
  • The Atoner: Horton makes his peace with Sour Kangaroo having her Villainous BSoD, who in response gladly protects the Whos as much as he does.
  • Backing Away Slowly: At one point in the movie, Horton shouts, "I'm talking to the mayor!". However, because the mayor is invisibly small, a nearby bird is confused and slowly backs away.
  • Big Bad: The Kangaroo serves as this, hunting down Horton so she can make him admit that he's supposedly wrong about the spec having living people inside of it.
  • Big Little Brother: The mayor of Whoville is always the oldest child of the previous mayor of Whoville. The oldest child of the current mayor of Whoville, Jojo, is not only the smallest child, but also the smallest of his ENTIRE kind.
  • Bits of Me Keep Passing Out: The Mayor is at the dentist when an earthquake (caused by the speck the Whos all inhabit moving) occurs, and the Novocaine needle ends up in his arm, which remains limp and useless for some time afterward.
  • Breakout Character: Jojo quickly became the most popular character in the film adaptation.
  • Brick Joke: The other Vlad.
    • And Burt from Accounting makes an appearance.
    • On the rope bridge, Horton thinks that inhaling deeply will make him lighter. Near the end Katie inhales deeply... and floats away.
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Despite Morton's warnings, Horton cannot resist telling the children of Nool about the dust speck on his clover.
  • Cassandra Truth: Nobody in WhoVille believes The Mayor when he tells them he can communicate with the mysterious voice in the sky named Horton or that something bad will happen to their world. Until it's almost too late that is.
    • Nobody in the jungle of Nool believes Horton when he says there's a tiny village of Whos living on the dust speck he protects.
  • Canon Foreigner: Morton, Katie and the other Vlad. Also, most of the named Whos.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Katie.
    • Horton himself. Just the sheer fact that Horton is voiced by Jim Carrey in the film qualifies him for this.
  • Continuity Nod: Horton's catchphrase in the movie was, of course, imported from Horton Hatches the Egg.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Horton's plan in the movie is to relocate the Whos to a safer place (since in the adaption WhoVille has somehow become unstable). Guess where he chooses? A mountain. Colder climate. Less hospitable terrain. Yes, he choose a mountain. Sour Kangaroo and her vacant pouch would have been a more sensible choice (and poetic, going from destroyer to protector of the Whos) after her Heel-face turn.
  • Creepy Child: Katie in the movie. "Aaah..."
  • Crowd Song: The end of the movie.
  • Death Glare: After the other animals finally hear the Whos, Sour Kangaroo still tries to rally them to continue the plan. They all shoot a very sharp one of these her direction, promptly shutting her up.
  • Delayed "Oh, Crap!": Eventually Horton catches on to the angry mob.
    Horton: Oh! I see! It's an angry mob! Coming right... for... (Starts getting it) Oh no...
  • Easily Forgiven: The animals in the jungle of Nool. Parodied when Horton says he couldn't have done it without their utter lack of support and naked aggression.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Vlad.
  • Explosive Breeder: The Who children, consisting of ninety-six daughters and just one son named Jojo.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Vlad.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: If you pause on the wedding photo of Ned McDodd and his wife, you'll notice that Ned McDodd looks identical to their son Jojo when he was younger.
    • Look at the photos on the wall in Ned and Sally's bedroom, there's one where Ned is skiing with Jojo.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: The Kangaroo refuses to believe Whos live on the dust speck Horton guards and is against her son and other children "behaving like wild animals" and make-believing they have people on their dust speck clovers too. Going as far as to smash up her son's clover.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Jojo has a natural talent for creating machines that make a lot of noise.
  • Goth: Jojo shows some shades of this.
  • Groin Attack: The mayor gets wedged between a door as a large fishbowl strikes him in the crotch.
    • Which is to say nothing of what happens later during the Vlad chase. The Mayor rolls out onto his balcony, hits one of the railing pillars between his legs, then is shoved in further by his desk, a couch and a refrigerator. Safe to say there probably won't be a 98th child.
  • Grumpy Bear: The Kangaroo.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The Kangaroo and makes peace with Horton and the other animals by the end of the movie. Even Vlad to an extent goes through this at the end as well.
  • Happily Adopted: Horton the Elephant along with his brother Morton the blue mouse.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • "He has the nerve to call me a boob? I would never call somebody a boob. HE'S a boob!"
    • Sour Kangaroo's claiming for the children's safety, then suddenly punting Katie out of the jungle.
  • Ignored Expert: The Mayor of Whoville.
  • I Love the Smell of X in the Morning:
    Horton: I love the smell of bananas in the morning!
  • Imagine Spot: See Art Shift above.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Downplayed. Horton doesn't exactly look like Jim Carrey here, but after he was cast, the more faithfully-designed Horton model was updated to include Carrey's expressive mouth.
  • Iron Lady: Sour Kangaroo is the de-facto authority figure in the jungle of Nool, instead of the moral guardian of the children she claims to be, quickly punishing anyone who defies her.
  • Jump Scare: Vlad's introduction.
    • Made fun of later on when Horton thinks he's lost him:
    Horton: (out of breath, panting) I just know he's gonna jump out somewhere.
    Vlad: (right in front of him, softly) Hello.
    Horton: (screams)
  • Knight Templar Parent: Kangaroo
  • Large Ham: Subdued, compared to his other performances, but Jim Carrey as Horton.
  • Laughably Evil: Vlad, of course.
  • Lost in Imitation: The films borrows some concepts from previous adaptations of the story:
    • The mayor (or Dr. Hoovey in the 1970 special) trying to prove to the people of Whoville that life beyond their world exists, but is not believed and ridiculed by the citizens, which comes back to bite them later.
    • The concept of Jojo being an Ascended Extra as the mayor's misunderstood son and the fact that Whoville is somehow not damaged in the slightest from the the fall into the cloverpatch both come from Seussical, which uses this story as one of the main plots.
  • Medium-Shift Gag: The previously All-CGI Cartoon briefly shifts into an Anime parody as Horton imagines himself as a ninja sworn to protect the tiny world on the clover.
    • There's even a brief traditionally animated segment drawn in Dr. Seuss' style when Horton imagines a Who on the speck "calling for help".
  • My Beloved Smother: Sour Kangaroo is this to Rudy, refusing to let him leave her pouch. Well, until the end of the film at least...
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Dr. Larue.
  • Obliviously Evil: While the Kangaroo is rather unambiguously cruel towards Horton, she honestly didn't realize that the speck did have living people inside of it.
  • Odd Name Out: Ninety-six of the Mayor's ninety-seven children all have names beginning with the letter H. Jojo, the Mayor's only son, is the Odd Name Out.
  • One Steve Limit: There are two Vlads that Horton knows: one is an evil vulture, the other one is a bunny that bakes cookies. They both actually exist.
  • Only Sane Man: In the movie, Rudy [the joey] and possibly Jojo as well.
  • Outnumbered Sibling: The Mayor has ninety-six daughters, and only one son, Jojo.
  • Rapid-Fire Descriptors: At one point in the "Mrs. Toucanella Told Me" song in the movie, the birds describe Horton as "manic, depressive, retrogressive, recessive, and 'progressively, excessively, possessively, oppressively acquessive'."
  • Related in the Adaptation: In the original book the Mayor and Jojo are unrelated. Here, they are father and son.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Again, Katie.
  • Rope Bridge: Horton has to cross one on his way to Mt. Nool.
    Horton: This looks...kinda...precarious. Well, no need to worry. Obviously, when they build a bridge like this, they take into account that elephants will be crossing here.
  • Shaming the Mob: Subverted, along with the Rousing Speech.
  • Shout-Out: Several to various Dr. Seuss works.
    • One Who has a blue hat similar to the one worn by The Cat in the Hat, as well as a few of The Cat's mannerisms (including a smaller version of himself underneath his hat).
    • The Mayor and his family eat Green Eggs and Ham for breakfast.
    • The city council seems to consist of Grinches.
    • Rudy's imaginary clover friend is named "Thidwick", a reference to Thidwick the Moose.
    • The Mayor has a red fish as a pet, possibly a reference to One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.
    • One of the portraits of past mayors was Dr. Seuss himself (specifically, the one of Ned's father)!
  • Stealth Pun: In the original story, Vlad was described as a "black-bottomed eagle". Here, he looks more like a vulture, without feathers on his head. So wait, does that make him a bald eagle?
  • Straw Hypocrite: Sour Kangaroo, obviously cares more about putting down others than actually caring about the children. It's followed by kicking Katie across the jungle.
  • Stylistic Suck: The music during Horton's Animesque Imagine Spot, which sounds like the soundtrack to a cheesy '70s kung-fu movie being played on a beat-up 8-track tape.
  • Suddenly Speaking: Jojo shouts "YOPP!", and finally speaking for the first time.
  • Sudden Musical Ending: And how. "Can't Fight This Feeling", out of nowhere.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The Mayor constantly reassures the Doctor that he absolutely did not have a conversation with an elephant in the sky.
  • Take That!: One of the scriptwriters must not have had a high opinion of home-schooling.
  • Think of the Children!: In the 2008 movie, the kangaroo rallies all the other animals in the jungle against Horton with this cry.
  • Toothy Bird: Vlad Vladikoff, a toothy vulture.
  • Totally Radical: When the Mayor tries to relate to Jojo at the beginning of the film. It fails.
    • Vlad Vladikoff also talks like this, when he's not being threatening.
  • Traveling-Pipe Bulge: This happens when Horton's voice first travels down the pipe to the mayor's office.
  • Tree Buchet: How Horton gets rid of Vlad in the movie.
    Horton: Sorry, this is where we get off. (lets go of tree, catapulting Vlad away) Cool line. Usually I can't think of those until later.
  • Tremor Trampoline: Happens to the world of Whoville several times; after all, a small bump from Horton's perspective is a big bump from the Whos perspective.
    • One time when it happened, was while a house was under construction; when everything was bounced skywards, the house came back down fully built.
  • Unlikely Hero: Although you can see it coming a mile away, the mopey, silent Jojo is, of course, the one who comes through in the end.
  • Wham Shot:
    • In both the book and the movie, The Reveal that Vlad has just dropped the cover containing Whoville into a thousand-mile wide field of clovers.
    • The narrator revealing at the end that the Jungle of Nool (and Earth as a whole) is just one speck, like Whoville, among numerous others, floating in outer space.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Subverted; the main villain is a kangaroo.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Jojo's main reason for never talking is that he thinks that if he does, then he'll disappoint his father.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Kangaroo is actually a subversion. It's pretty obvious that she's enforcing her rules for the sake of her own ego instead of actually protecting anybody (She goes on about protecting the children, then kicks Katie clear across the jungle).
  • Witch Hunt: There's a bit of this in the 2008 movie as well.
    Kangaroo: If the children hear stories about worlds beyond the jungle, they'll start to question authority! Which leads to defiance, which lead to ANARCHY!

Alternative Title(s): Horton Hears A Who


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