L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

 

Introduction: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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Horton Hears a Who! [Blu-ray]

(aka "Dr. Seuss Horton Hears a Who!")

 

(Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Blue Sky Studios

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: A

Runtime: 86 minutes

Chapters: 32

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: December 9, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 34 Mbps

 

Audio:

English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; Spanish & French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, Spanish, Korean, Cantonese & Mandarin

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary by the Directors

• BonusView Picture-in-Picture (visual commentary by Jo-Jo the Who)

• Ice Age Short: Surviving Sid

• Sneak Peek at Ice Age 3

• Animation Screen Test (6:20)

• Bringing the Characters to Life (5:29)

• That's One Big Elephant: Animating Horton (8:08)

• Meet Katie (3:49) Elephant Fun: The Facts (5:28)

• Bringing Suess to the Screen (8:14)

• The Elephant in the Room: Jim Carrey (4:52)

• A Person is a Person (3:42)

• Our Speck: Where Do We Fit In? (4:01)

• Elephant Fun: The Facts (5:28)

• Game: We Are Here!

• Disc 2: Digital Copy

 

 

The Film:

With Dr. Suess's name above the title, it's hard to resist comparisons with the original and comparatively slight book. The look of the movie, especially in Whoville (all of which sequences I enjoyed more than Nool) is respectful of the good doctor, and the narration employs much of his language, if not precisely his rhythms and cadences. Plot points and characterizations necessarily are expanded.

I liked this movie, but I intend to be critical for a bit. The animation is good enough to please but occasionally not to convince. In the opening sequence, to take a representative example, Horton frolics about and dives into a pool, making a big splash. But the effects and aftereffects on the water are not realized: it's as if the splash goes up and out, but not down – at least it doesn't seem to hit the water where Horton has just landed.

In another arena altogether, I continue to be unimpressed by the use of big name actors, not only as voices for the characters, but in the ads and in the credits before the movie gets under way. This is not to say that Jim Carrey, Steve Carell and Carol Burnett are anything less than perfect as Horton, the Mayor, and Kangaroo, it's just that I'd rather see the money put to better use (cf the previous paragraph and my notes under Audio.) As witness Will Arnett's brilliant characterization of Vlad the Impaler – er, that's just Vlad - fabulous results can be obtained without drawing from the A-list. As for Carell: those of you who follow my reviews of his movies know in what regard I hold him, but here, invisible, I hear talent and believability that I do not find in his live action roles. Enough.

The Movie: 8
In the right-thinking Jungle of Nool live an assortment of colorful animals, among them an offbeat elephant named Horton. One day his big ears pick up a voice from a tiny speck resting atop a flower. When he tries to tell the other animals about what he thinks is a cry for help, he is ridiculed for the idea that creatures no one can see could exist. This attitude is taken up in no uncertain terms by Kangaroo who, in a thinly veiled personification of everything that's wrongheaded about parochial fundamentalism, orders Horton not to undermine the children with ideas that might stir their imagination and, by extension, her authority.

But Horton soon learns that there is not only one voice on the speck, but an entire city – Whoville. He vows to protect the speck and goes off in search of a place for the flower that would be away from dangers, foreign and domestic. When Kangaroo learns that Horton has disobeyed her edict and, worse, that the younger animals seem to be fascinated with Horton's adventure (though they continue to hear nothing), she sets about trying to get rid of it with the help of a vulturish creature named Vlad.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Whoville has his own problems, since he is the only Who who is able to hear Horton. The two worlds become mirror images of each other's attitudes, but nothing remotely similar in appearance: Horton's world being all lush and jungley and Whoville like it just stepped out of Suess's personal copy of the New Yorker.

 


 

Image: 9/9
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The image for this Blu-ray is sharp and highly resolved, but not big on textural discrimination. I think this is simply a consiquence of Blue Sky's approach and budget. There is certainly more going on in this department (and in the backgrounds as well) than either of their Ice Age movies, so I'm guessing exec producer Chris Wedge and directors Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino opt for a smother look because it's cheaper to realize than the alternative. In every other respect the image is just about perfect, with eye-candy to delight all ages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/9
I give points for creative integration of image and audio, which sees its cumulative effect in the movie's exciting finale: As the citizens of Whoville clamor to make themselves heard in every imaginable form of noise and shout and sound-making device, they become part and parcel of the musical fabric and vice-versa. The employment of the surrounds to envelop and provide directionality, plus the discrimination of a gazillion timbres from the highest treble to the lowest bass has our rapt attention and admiration. The dramatic effect, especially as intercut with the fate of the increasingly helpless Horton, is what the art form is all about. The intention of the audio effects is clear - I only wish that the audio mix could have been more dynamic. We can tell what it wants to be, but never quite achieves: the bass isn't deep enough, the treble not high enough, the noise not quite clamorous enough.

 

 

 

Operations: 5
One thing I am enjoying about Fox Blu-rays of late is that we can get directly to the menu immediately upon seeing the ATTENTION warning with a click of the Top Menu button. On the other hand, with the huge number of brief bonus items, especially in that several of these have individual subsections, a Play All for one or two tiers up the chain would have been appreciated. I do give the menu points for clarity: it's one of the easiest to understand I've seen in some time.

 

Extras: 8
If my notes are correct, all the extra features, except the deleted footage and animated screen tests, are in high definition and, short as many of them are, are informative about the animation process that takes us through story to characterization to voicing to final print. They are a little cursory, but get to the meat of the matter quickly, especially with the frequent help of brief introductions by the directors. I can't say I thought much of Blu Sky's short feature "Surviving Sid" – with familiar characters from Ice Age. It's definitely targeted for very young children, with exceedingly two-dimensional animation. The "We Are Here" game is also targeted for young kids; I thought it fun and confidence building. (I didn't try it for long, for fear of failure.) When the BonusView Picture-in-Picture feature is activated, Jo-Jo, the smallest of the Whos, periodically appears on the screen. When he holds up a sign, hit the red button and find what he's looking for.

 

 

Bottom line: 9
At last, an animation of Dr. Suess material that is buoyant and optimistic. No degenerate Cat in the Hat or depressing How the Grinch Stole Christmas here. Blue Sky's Horton Hears a Who! is imaginative, engaging and gets better as it goes along. A great picture with very good audio making for a warmly recommended Blu-ray from Fox.

Leonard Norwitz
December 12th, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 





 

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