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You are here: Home > Recent > News > Who’s who in Who-ville
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Who’s who in Who-ville
11 Mar 2008    

By TNPihl (JCO Editor-In-Chief)

Horton is not like any elephant we’ve seen before. He is bigger than life in many ways beyond bulk; he has a big heart, big personality, and a big sense of fun. Horton shines through kindness, trustworthiness and perseverance. Despite formidable adversity, ridicule, condemnation and threats, Horton’s resolve to bring Who-ville to safety, remains steadfast. He’s always faithful…100 percent.

According to the filmmakers, Jim Carrey brings far more than his superstar comedy talents to the role of Horton. “Jim has a warmth and humor that’s amazing, and which kept Horton that sweet, lovable character we know from the books,” says Jimmy Hayward. “He’s a passionate, creative force and really owned the character.

“Jim really puts his entire face into everything he does,” Hayward continues. “He acts out every take just as he would if he were actually before the cameras. He gave us some great eye acting references, so we got an extraordinary amount of subtle Horton stuff out of Jim from his voice performance.”

Given Carrey’s full-throttle expressiveness, it comes as no surprise that he influenced Horton’s look. Says lead animator Dave Torres: “In early design stages, Horton had a smaller mouth. But when Jim came aboard, the character became very expressive; in fact, Jim led us to really push the boundaries of expressiveness for an animated character.”

Horton Hears a Who!
© Mark Fellman

Horton’s chief relationship in the story is with the Mayor of Who-ville, whom Horton never sees, and who cannot see him. Yet the bond they form is a remarkable one, rich with warmth, friendship and humor, even though the stakes for both are life and death. As Horton makes his epic journey to bring Who-ville to safety, the Mayor – the voice of all the Whos – risks everything to convince his constituents of the dangers ahead.

Dr. Seuss so memorably introduces the Mayor as “…devoted and fair, and a little bit odd. The Mayor and his wife, they had children to spare.” And how! They are proud parents to 96 daughters and one son. The endless parade of offspring is introduced sitting on chairs attached to a conveyer belt that rotates around the table, so that each has a brief but impactful audience with the Mayor; it’s an imaginatively patterned procession reminiscent of a scene from a Busby Berkeley musical.

Steve Carell, says director Steve Martino, brings a sense of humanity to all his characters, like “The Office’s” perpetually-clueless boss Michael Scott and, now, the besieged and beleaguered Mayor. “All of Steve’s characters have a beautiful heart inside,” says Martino. “You want to root for them.”

“You like to watch Steve’s characters struggle,” adds Jimmy Hayward. “Watching him ‘spin plates’ – it’s a pleasure. He rubs the right amount of ‘Steve’ on every line of dialogue. He’s the one Who we really get to know, so you want to relate to him, and thanks to Steve, you do.”

Horton Hears a Who!
© Richard Radstone

Carell describes the Mayor as “kind, generous, well-intentioned, with a lot of internal fortitude. He’s sort of an everyman – a guy just trying to do his best in a very difficult situation.” The Golden Globe®-winning actor particularly appreciated the philosophical underpinnings of Horton’s insisting that a person’s a person, no matter how small. “It really speaks to the world around us – that no matter how different we seem on the outside, if there is decency, caring and commitment, things can get accomplished. It’s a good, sweet, and solid message that’s rooted in kindness. And that’s what I love about it.”

The Mayor’s pride and joy is son Jo-Jo, the littlest Who. The Mayor has big plans for his diminutive son, grooming him to continue the family legacy by taking over as head of the Whos when the Mayor retires. But Jo-Jo has made it abundantly clear that he does not want his father’s career. Instead, the taciturn young man is pursuing something very, very different and special...

The chief threat to Horton’s quest – and in turn to the survival of Who-ville – is the Kangaroo, who, as the film tells us, “made every law and enforced every rule, as selfproclaimed head of the jungle of Nool.” She has a sour disposition and a closed mind, insisting that “if you can’t see something, it doesn’t exist.” Kangaroo’s closed-in philosophy has potentially grave consequences for Horton, the Mayor, and all of Whoville.

Horton Hears a Who!
© Blue Sky Studios

But is she a villain? Martino isn’t so sure. “She’s an ideologue, not a villain,” he posits. “She’s misguided but not evil.”

In one memorable scene, the Kangaroo, in full jungle-tyrant mode, delivers – actually, screams at the top of her lungs – a sermon about the impossibility of the existence of Who-ville. The sequence makes full use of the amazing vocal capabilities and comedic talents of the legendary Carol Burnett, who takes on the role, making it her own. (Burnett’s legions of fans include Jim Carrey and many of the DR. SEUSS’ HORTON HEARS A WHO! creative and production teams.) “Carol has pipes!” says Hayward of the actress, whose many memorable moments from her long-running television variety show included a “Tarzan yell” that provides a foreshadowing of her Kangaroo vocalizations. “She just lets it all hang out [delivering the sermon],” says Burnett. “There’s something very liberating about screaming at the top of your lungs…and getting paid for it.”

Returning to the subject of Kangaroo’s alleged villainy, Burnett points out that “when playing a villain, you don’t see the character as villainous. A villain doesn’t think he or she is evil. They see the good – that they’re righteous in their feelings and thoughts. And if everybody else would just listen to and agree with them, the world will be just wonderful.

“Kangaroo is very controlling and hard-nosed,” Burnett admits. “She runs the jungle with an iron fist. She’s kept her son Rudy in her pouch for, well, too long; she won’t let him out of his ‘room.’” (Some kids feel like their parents keep them prisoners; Rudy might have a legitimate complaint.) Kangaroo’s chief henchman is Vlad Vlad-I-Koff, an enormous, black-bottomed eagle with tattered, oily feathers and a large jagged beak. He speaks with a thick Russian accent. Vlad is not an evil genius – he’s just evil. “Vlad moves around like a lizard or a bat,” says Jimmy Hayward. “Everything for him is based on instinct. The character is a great car accident of fun cultural influences. He’s like a maroon velour-tracksuit wearing, gold-chained gangster.”

Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”), who plays Vlad, says the character is “his own breed of bird – a dangerous guy…a gun for hire. He’s pseudo-hip – woefully behind the times. But he thinks he’s on top of the latest in pop culture.

Horton Hears a Who!
© Blue Sky Studios

“I’m attracted to characters that are slightly cocky and also pretty dumb,” Arnett continues. “That’s a winning combination. Not for life, but for comedy. For life, it’s a really sad combination. I love people who are super-cocky and yet totally unaware of what an idiot they are.”

Vlad may not be the sharpest beak in the jungle, but he poses a threat to Horton and to Who-ville. Vlad can weave in and out of trees like an X-wing fighter – you can almost hear the jet engines – and in one thrilling sequence he chases Horton through the jungle. “We constructed the scene like a classic horror film,” says Hayward. “It’s certainly not bloody or played for terror. But it does present a balance of laughs and surprises.”

The head of the Wickersham clan is Yummo, voiced by Tony®-winning actor Dan Fogler, who doubles his fun by also taking on the role of the Who-ville Council Chairman. Fogler enjoyed both roles but says Yummo is closer to his heart. “I’m from Brooklyn,” he explains, “and Yummo IS Brooklyn, tough and street.”

There is no shortage of adversaries for Horton. But he does have a best friend and confidante in Nool: Morton the Mouse, who tries to be a voice of reason to his oversized pal. “Well, you’re talking to a clover; that doesn’t look good,” the savvy rodent advises Horton. Seth Rogen, one of the brightest of today’s comedy actor/writers, brings his special cockeyed sensibility to the role. “Morton may be too susceptible to peer pressure,” says the “Knocked Up” star and “Superbad” actor-writer. “He’s somewhat neurotic and maybe not really his own guy.”

Back in Who-ville, as the Mayor tries to convince the Whos of the dangers facing the city, the Mayor’s wife and the level-headed mother to 97, is keeping things running smoothly at home. The seemingly effortless way in which the character handles a household bursting at the seams will amuse any parent; it certainly did Steve Martino. “I’ve got two kids and that’s a challenge,” he says. “Now, imagine dealing with 97!”

Horton Hears a Who!
© Blue Sky Studios

“Saturday Night Live” mainstay Amy Poehler, the real-life wife to Vlad Vlad-IKoff himself – Will Arnett – makes the character an engaging character that calls her husband on his frantic behavior, but always doing so with understanding and a sense of humor. “Amy makes the character contemporary and real, but with a tongue-in-cheek bite,” says Martino.

“I’ve played many kinds of crazy in my career,” Poehler adds. “A lot of up-anddown characters. But Sally is very stable. She keeps her husband grounded in a very nice way. She has to because she’s the real head of their giant family. She’s her husband’s sounding board. But she’s a little worried about him; is he going crazy with his frantic running around with warnings of possible doom?”

Sally’s doubts notwithstanding, there is indeed something amiss in Who-ville. To confirm his suspicions, the Mayor turns to Dr. Mary Lou LaRue, the wacky but brainy scientist from Who U. Dr. LaRue wears thick safety glasses, sports big purple hair and lacks basic social skills. Everything for her is about science. Isla Fisher, who moves effortlessly between broad comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and dramas like “The Lookout,” notes that Mary Lou is the only Who (besides the Mayor) who “fully understands the ramifications of Who-ville’s sudden climate changes [stemming from Horton’s perilous journey through Nool]. She’s the first to convert to the Mayor’s beliefs about potential doom and gloom.” Adds the diminutive star, who stands all of five-feet, two-inches: “The saying that ‘a person’s a person no matter how small,’ has particular relevance to me.”

From the brainy to the…not so much. Meet the Wickershams, a simian clan with an all-too-familiar human mob mentality. “They’re essentially a band of funny guys,” says Hayward. “They’re not classical villains. But when things start getting tough for Horton, the Wickershams enjoy it. They live on the dark side of human nature.”

-- Source: Twentieth Century Fox Animation.

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