In some ways, I think Shrek‘s success hurt future animated films more than it helped them. Sure, the character designs were cool and the films have their funny moments (especially when Puss in Boots is involved), but the franchise set a precedent of inserting lame pop-culture references and Top 40 songs in lieu of real jokes. References can be amusing (“Hey! It’s just like The Matrix!“), but they’re rarely really funny, and they become dated faster than the actual cultural touchstones that they’re referencing. Plus, listening to children singing along with a cover of a pop song originally done by a band that was derivative to begin with is basically my personal No Exit style of hell. (Thank you, Smash Mouth’s “I’m a Believer.”)
So then comes the news that Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book, Horton Hears a Who is transitioning to the big screen. Dr. Seuss is timeless. He makes no pop culture references. His jokes are witty, clever, and barely in English. I figured I was safe.
Then I see the commercial for Horton, and what’s he doing? Singing “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon. (Don’t believe me? Click here to see a video.) I love Dr. Seuss and my feelings for REO Speedwagon are neutral at best, but the combination of the two makes me want to personally option the rest of the Theodor Seuss Geisel oeuvre to keep something like this from happening again.
Yet even as I was running to the bathroom to go retch, I noticed how gorgeous the animation looks. That comes courtesy of Blue Sky Studios, headquartered in White Plains. The animation studio is also behind the wildly popular Ice Age movies, along with the lesser-seen Robots. (If you keep your back issues of Westchester Magazine—and you do, right?—check out my interview with Blue Sky’s Chris Wedge in the March 2005 issue, right around the time of Robots.) Horton‘s bright colors pop even on a small TV screen, and while Seuss would never commit the sin of quoting arena bands in his work, at least the movie stays true to the spirit of his wildly inventive character designs.
These Blue Sky kids might be on to something. Horton was No. 1 at the box office this weekend, making more than $45 million dollars after opening on almost 4,000 screens. (10,000 BC, spiritual kin to Blue Sky’s Ice Age, was No. 2 with $16 million.) Ice Age opened to similarly huge numbers, and Ice Age: The Meltdown opened even stronger; its first weekend brought home more than $68 million. Say what you will about the combination of elephants and REO Speedwagon, but kids seem to like it.
My personal favorite Blue Sky offering, however, is a little-known short they did that came out of nowhere to be nominated for an Oscar. “Bunny” comes from a simpler time: 1998, to be exact, before Shrek unleashed itself on the population and all animated movies thereafter were forced to dumb themselves down with lame attempts at pop-culture-related humor. As such, it’s a little darker, the plot has a bit of the classic little-guy-can’t-get-ahead tension to it (later seen in Ice Age‘s scrat), and is all-around more enjoyable. If Horton Hears a Who gets people to go back and rediscover “Bunny,” the desecration of Dr. Seuss will be worth it.