If I ran the circus, the gang that made the sturdy, witty, inventively animated Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! would get first dibs on any future movie productions of the Theodor Seuss Geisel canon. Grinches have messed up recent live-action adaptations beyond repair: I do not like The Cat in the Hat, I do not like it, fancy that. But this exuberant translation of the 1954 classic from the Blue Sky Studios folks who made Sisyphean drama out of a squirrel and a nut in Ice Age is true to the Seuss vision, with a contemporary integrity that makes full use of CG power without sacrificing the delicacy of the author's springy, zingy illustrations. The new Horton proves that in the care of a creative team prudent enough to keep the focus on the book's timeless mélange of eccentricities and ethics and steer clear of meta joking or condescension, there's new juice to be squeezed from old Seuss yet.
Certainly the excesses of the live-action Cat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas movies can't eclipse the durable genius of the good Doctor, who, in Horton, has created one of literature's great pachyderm role models. One day ''in the Jungle of Nool,'' as anyone who was ever an American child may remember, the title elephant hears the tiniest squeak coming from the smallest speck floating through the air, and discerns an entire universe in a dust mote. It's the residents of Who-ville he alone hears city folks in a vulnerable universe teensy enough for Horton to carry on the head of a clover flower. And so, even though he can't see them, Horton tenderly carries the Whos to safety, despite outlandish obstacles in a jungle of naysayers, led by a bullying bossypouch of a kangaroo. His explanation, ''A person's a person, no matter how small,'' is a verity right up there with ''give peace a chance.'' Accordingly, the statement has been interpreted like a holy text. Completists may also want to track down Chuck Jones' animated 1970 TV version.
The actors who lend their voices to the film aren't people we generally think of as working ''small.'' But in a felicitous group effort guided by directors Jimmy Hayward (a Pixar alumnus) and Steve Martino (art director of Blue Sky's Robots), comic powerhouses Jim Carrey (as Horton), Steve Carell (as the Mayor), and Carol Burnett (as the sour Kangaroo) temper their own full-throttle performances with an unironic respect for the original text. The backup players (among them Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, and Isla Fisher) also swing in the breeze. The movie's visual pep complements the nonconformist glee of Seuss' line drawings. And when the entire population of Who-ville clangs and chimes to announce ''We are here!'' loud enough to be heard beyond their city limits, the noise is downright joyous. A-