DR. SEUSS’ HORTON HEARS A WHO! (A-1, G): In a jungle only Dr. Seuss could imagine,
Horton, the elephant (voice of Jim Carrey), hears a voice coming from a speck of dust floating
by his big ears. Horton becomes concerned for the tiny person he hears and goes through
considerable trouble to settle the dust on a clover so it will be safe.
The Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) enlists Horton to find a home for his city so that
the people, including his 96 daughters and one son, will be secure. Horton agrees because
he believes that “a person’s a person no matter how small.”
The Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) mocks Horton because “if you can’t see it, it’s not there.” Horton
brings the clover and the speck that is Whoville to the safety of a mountaintop. He must
overcome attacks by Vlad, the vulture (Will Arnett), the challenge of rough terrain, capture
and the threat of death by the monkey gang (the Wickersham brothers).
Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), better known as Dr. Seuss, wrote many popular books
that have been made into TV films and movies. Some have become classics (the 1966 version
of How the Grinch Stole Christmas) while others were flops (the 2003 version of The
Cat in the Hat).
This high-concept rendition of Seuss’s 1954 book Horton Hears a Who! delivers on
every level. (The elephant first appeared in 1940 in Horton Hatches the Egg.) The
animation is bright and fanciful, the action is lively and the story is delightful (the
plot has been amplified for feature-length viewing). The film also includes some footage
from its 1970 predecessor to engage older viewers and an anime (Japanese-style animation)
sequence that will connect with younger viewers.
A team of animated-feature veterans wrote (Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul) and directed (Jimmy
Hayward and Steve Martino) this anthropomorphic tale about Horton, who is willing to sacrifice
his life for the people of Whoville. By the end, everyone learns a lesson in community
and the common good.
The voices are pitch-perfect; I especially enjoyed Carol Burnett as the Kangaroo in denial.
This is the best film of the year so far and a joy to behold. Dr. Seuss would be proud. Filled
with life-affirming messages about theology and human dignity; for all ages.
PENELOPE (A-2, PG) is born with a family curse: She has a pig’s snout instead of
a nose. Penelope’s (Christina Ricci, Monster) parents (Catherine O’Hara and Richard
E. Grant) have raised the girl at their remote mansion.
To break the curse, Penelope must wed someone from her own social class who loves her
for herself. Similar to her namesake in Homer’s Odyssey, Penelope hides behind a
one-way mirror when suitors come. They flee when they see her.
Lemon (Peter Dinklage, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) is a reporter
who hires Max (James McAvoy, Atonement), a gambler, to pretend to be a suitor and
take a photo of Penelope. But when Max and Penelope meet, they are attracted to one another.
Reese Witherspoon (co-producer) contemporizes this slightly uneven story with her portrayal
of a friendly biker.
This is a fractured fairy tale with a message: No matter what we look like, our income
or status, everyone is worthy of love.
The characters all learn valuable, transforming lessons about their own dignity and worth.
In our culture, so dominated by body image, Penelope offers credible positive commentary
for girls and young women, although Christina Ricci looks lovely, even with a porcine snout. Some
innuendo and problem language.
THE VISITOR (unrated, PG-13): Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins, Shall We Dance)
is a dispirited widowed college professor in Connecticut who attends a conference in Manhattan
and finds two strangers living in his seldom-used apartment. Both are undocumented Muslims:
Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) is a young woman from Senegal and Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), her
boyfriend, is from Syria.
Walter allows them to stay and he learns to play African drums from Tarek. After undercover
police arrest Tarek, Walter hires an immigration lawyer and becomes Tarek’s only visitor
at the detention center.
This original story is written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, who also scripted The
Station Agent, one of my favorite films. Whereas that film had elements of humor
and whimsy, The Visitor is gentle and deliberate, if not somewhat plodding.
The Visitor evokes quiet reflection on the state of U.S. immigration in a post-9/11
era, and who or what process decides who can stay—or visit—America today. The film elicits
fine performances from Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman—an actor to watch.
Since we are all visitors on this earth and neighbors, perhaps the film suggests we ask
ourselves, “What is the next step for citizens of the global village?”
One sure answer to this question is that the arts and music, in particular, give us a universal
language that can bring us out of ourselves and unite us as members of the human family. Brief
MY BROTHER IS AN ONLY CHILD (Mio fratello è figlio unico) (unrated) won
Italy’s 2007 prestigious David Award. Set in the turbulent late ’60s near Rome, one brother
becomes a Communist and his younger brother becomes a Fascist. There’s a strong sense of
family and home, the place we can return to when everything we thought mattered falls apart. In
Italian with English subtitles. A thoughtful film that may interest students of history
and political ideology; violence and graphic language.
PEDRO ARRUPE: HIS LIFE AND LEGACY: This documentary traces the life of Father Pedro
Arrupe (1907-1991) the general superior of the Jesuits. It focuses on Arrupe’s vibrant
leadership, which “mediated change and conflict” and promoted
“love and service” during the post- Vatican II years. Made for Georgetown University, the
DVD is available for $10 (postage included) from The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 3601
Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108; telephone: 314-633-4622.
FATHER G AND THE HOMEBOYS is a moving multi-award-winning feature-length documentary
that follows another Jesuit, Father Gregory Boyle, who has been working to stop gang violence
in Los Angeles since the 1980s. He founded Homeboy Industries to provide employment, education
and hope to former gang members, male and female. (You can read a profile
on our Web site.)
Father Greg’s motto (“Nothing stops a bullet like a job”) reflects the faith he has in
young people. “It’s ludicrous to build prisons to deal with crime; it’s like building cemeteries
to fight AIDS,”
he says. Available from www.fathergandthehomeboysmovie.com.
ELI STONE (ABC, Thursday) is a new network show that premiered just as the Hollywood
writers' strike was ending. Eli (Jonny Lee Miller) is on his way to becoming a high-powered
lawyer at a San Francisco firm when he begins to have visions that he attributes to a brain
aneurysm. He believes that he is now God’s prophet and the visions direct him to help people.
Eli suffers the consequences for following his visions and conscience.
The theology is a mixed bag. But doing good for others, choosing others over self, listening
to God and one’s conscience, and being open to seeing reality through the lens of faith,
are spiritual themes for all seasons. Sweet, inspiring entertainment.