I've just come from an Easter evening viewing of the new children's movie Horton Hears a Who! (based on the book of the same name by Dr. Seuss) and media and especially children's media is weighing heavy on my mind. In many ways, I liked the movie, as did my seven year old, don't get me wrong. Visually it was a creative work of genius. Still, I question whether or not the adaptation was something Mr. Geisel himself would a) think represents his original work, b) think was intended for children who think, wonder, and love to learn, and c) even approve of.

The book, an amazing story of perseverance, was first published in 1954 as a little known social commentary about America's decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The story is that Horton hears a voice on a speck of dust (on a clover), and the whole Jungle of Nool thinks he is crazy and eventually threaten to boil the dust speck and clover in beezlenut oil, but it isn't until even the tiniest voice of the Who's joins in the cry for help that they are finally heard and Horton is believed. The message is that grassroots organizations, and little voices, when banded together can REALLY be heard, and maybe more importantly, actually make a difference.

And then came the movie. Here's a bit of what we see happening in the screen adaptation:
The villain, the kangaroo from the Jungle of Nool, is an overprotective homeschooling (or rather "pouch" schooling) mom. She is committed to the notion of absolute authority and is deeply disturbed by the questioning of authority. She recognizes the subversive potential of imagination and is very concerned about the lines of certainty being blurred. She plays up the idea that it is all "for the children" and harnesses support for her cause (destroying the dust speck) by saying such.

Our protagonist, the mayor (in the position of mayor because of lineage) is essentially in the place of king among the Who's. He has 99 daughters and 1 son. His daughters are primarily concerned with acquiring cell phones and hair brushing while his one son, Jojo, spends his time in a workshop of sorts creating interesting contraptions and brooding while his dad is trying to talk him into taking his rightful place as the next mayor of Whoville. The message about gender and expectations in that regard are subtle but clear.

Ultimately, Horton is caged, poked, prodded, and, along with his friends on the speck of dust, his life is threatened in a scary scene intended to be a climax. (The movie is rated G, by the way.) In the end, with all the confusion and intense imagery, I believe that the message of small voices being heard is lost.

Almost daily, even without television, I struggle with the evidence that my child is being marketed to, being molded by media, and the messages in his everyday movement through life are ones that tell him who to be, how to live, what he should be concerned with, what the roles of his gender are, and to be prepared for fast images that almost always place the person you are to identify with in danger.


mom said...

Sigh. I had been cautiously optimistic that this film might be worth taking my dd to (since the book is so wonderful). Good to hear this from a like-minded parent, even if it's bad news. Thank you! See you at CCFC.

ModMomMuse said...

Thank you for your perspective on this movie. I didn't have any interest in seeing it, b/c I thought he previous Seuss movies were terribly disappointing (frenetic, long, over-the-top, non-subtle), but now I am certain to avoid it. My children love the book. Let them hold memory of the original in all its Life-affirming glory! I've also seen it as a testimony that an unborn child can find a voice in those who will speak for him/her, even when voices around protest, "There is no Life there!" So, that is the perspective we use in our home re: Horton Hears a Who: a precious and amazing metaphor!