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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Horton Hears a Who

When I sat down to write something about Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!, the film adaptation of the book by the same name I thought it would be easy enough. The movie was a delight, and certainly the type of entertainment that any family could enjoy together as a whole, a rare enough entity these days. Still, I felt like I was approaching an insurmountable task.

I thought about beginning with a rant about the hordes of children that engulfed me everywhere I went, be it in the loo, out to the concession counter, or in the theater itself. No matter where I went, they swarmed like bees, spilling popcorn, giggling at the movie in all the best parts, and bouncing up and down in their seats, kicking at the back of the row in front of them. The trouble is that I just didn’t feel the ire such a piece would take. Oddly enough, even with hundreds of the little nippers running loose like free-range chickens all about the premises, there wasn’t a one that irritated me on this day. Perhaps it was the shared satisfaction in how Jim Carrey (The Number 23) controlled his usual over-the-top shenanigans and provided a perfectly modulated performance as the animated voice of Horton, the elephant with a heart bigger than he is. Maybe it was Carol Burnett’s (Once Upon a Mattress) deliciously evil interpretation of the jungle’s Kangaroo, a mean-spirited bully who makes it her goal to protect everyone in this tropical forest from being exposed to new ideas and ideology. Her motto is the practical, if simplistic view: “If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist!”

No. Without my inner growl, I knew I couldn’t pick on the kids this time out. I even toyed with the idea of trying to write an entire review in rhyme as a tribute to Dr. Seuss, but after a few stanzas I realized that wasn’t going to work. There just aren’t enough rhymes for “Who” as in Horton Hears - one before you end up running into the scatological (i.e. “poo”), and I’ve gotten more than enough sh—er, complaints from parents who read this blog regularly who have said they have been upset when reading this column to their children that they are suddenly appalled to stumble upon something less than suitable for ‘G’ rated audiences. Far be it from me to write something smutty, but I can’t imagine what would possess anyone to read my blog to their children! Dear God! How can I even concentrate on the clever script by partners Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (Special) for Horton Hears a Who when I should be calling Child Protective Services on these anonymous whiners?

So instead of composing anything, I slept on the problem, hoping to understand why this
assignment was so challenging. Was it the dreaded ‘writer’s block’? Maybe, but then as I was coming home from running an errand last night the truth rushed up on me like an untamed river overflowing its banks. And there I sat in my car, in the dark, in the cold, for what seemed like hours. Sobbing, bawling, weeping, and finally simply crying as the warm memories blanketed me from the frigid weather outside.

Eventually, I gathered my purse and groceries and made it inside, but instead of putting things away and settling down in front of the computer to write I went down to the basement and made my way to a back store room I seldom visited and avoided looking at when I was down there.. I opened the door and instinctively knew exactly what box to search in even though it had been years since I had entered that space. Inside the box was an impressive collection of Seuss books, from The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Green Eggs and Ham. Finally, amongst the mix I found Horton Hears a Who! , dusted it off, and took it upstairs to read.

This version of the Dr. Seuss tale is a lot less colorful than the on-screen version. The one in
theaters this week features terrific voice talents (Steve Carell; Dan in Real Life, Amy Poeller; tv's "Saturday Night Live", Charles Osgood; tv's "CBS News Sunday Morning") and top-of-the-line computer graphics to bring Horton and the residents of Whoville to life, so it must seem arguably a thousand times more magical to today’s kids than the basic one-dimensional drawings and words on paper that the original book edition has to offer.

What the worn-edged pages do have over the movie, at least for me, is a very personal attachment. Hopefully, for parents taking their little ones to this film for the first time it will somehow create that same kind of bond between them and their children. It’s that memory a child and a parent can always cherish from either side of the event, a “first” shared experience both parent and child will always remember. Granted, seeing the movie version is not exactly the same memory as I have from reading
Horton Hears a Who!, but it’s something along the same lines.

Her name was Joy, and she was aptly named because she brought more joy, happiness and spirit into my life than I ever imagined was possible. My beautiful daughter, who liked Care Bears, but loved Dr. Seuss, could light up her room without the aid of her teddy bear-shaped bedroom lamp when I’d promise to read her a Dr. Seuss favorite before “sleepy time.” This ritual began when she was barely four and I’d joined a Dr. Seuss Book Club. It continued for the next two years, with a new Seuss original arriving in the mail every couple of months or so. When it did, Joy and I would savor its’ arrival as if we’d received a treasure chest and I’d read each line inside as if it was pure gold.

Despite the dozens of Seuss books to choose from, the story of Horton the Elephant who, on the fifteenth of May in the Jungle of Nool, heard a small speck of dust talking to him, was always her favorite. Whenever we read it, Joy would insist that at the point Horton proclaimed his allegiance to the microscopic-sized inhabitants of the speck known as Whos, we were both to say Horton’s catchphrase together: "A person's a person, no matter how small". I never asked her why that particular bit rung so important to her, but it certainly did. Perhaps it was because she was also small for her age and was self-conscious of it. I suppose that’s something I should have known. There are so many things I wish I had gotten to know about my little girl. I’ll always regret that I never got that opportunity.

Instead, at 10:35 am, on a cloudless, sunny Saturday morning, my world changed forever when a drunk driver, with three previous DUIs yet still on the road, ran through a stop sign at over 70 miles per hour and straight into the passenger side of the car my beloved child was riding in on her way
to a summer swimming lesson with her friends.

That day I joined a club no one wants to belong to and no one can ever quit. Years may go by and we may learn to present a “normal” front to the rest of you outside of the club, but the ache never goes away. It lies like a drowsy leopard inside, hidden but waiting until something as unremarkable as the opening of a children’s movie can rip open those wounds that have never really healed anyway. They may look to the outside like they may have, but this is one hurt that knows no end.

I miss my Joy, and I miss the joy in my life, but I hope that you who are lucky enough to have a young one running around your house will always take that extra moment in the day to thank God for your blessings.

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