Kudos to Dr. Seuss

I had a pleasant treat over the Easter holidays when I took my nephew to see the animation film “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who”, which was a huge box office success internationally. Elephant has always been one of my two favorite animals (the other is dolphin), and Horton the Elephant was what drew me to the film. Of course, the primary aim was to let my nephew be exposed to a healthily themed movie that is fun to watch at the same time.

As a child I had always been attracted to Disney cartoons, not only for the sweet characters and their hilarious acts, but also for the usual “good triumphs over evil” endings. “Horton Hears a Who” brings back those cosy feelings of my childhood days.

If I were to give a one-phrase comment about the movie, it would be “simple in narrative but deep in morals”. The fact that it has captivated an enormous world-wide audience (adults and children alike) is strong proof that many adults are children at heart.

The story theme centers on Horton’s famous quote: “a person is a person, no matter how small”. “Small” is depicted by the speck that Horton tries to protect from harm and which is so light that it has to be carried on a dandelion. Yet as small as the speck is, it is nevertheless a whole community called “Whoville” in which dwell a population of microscopic beings headed by a mayor. Horton is the only one who can hear the call for help from the mayor and his people, but the kind-hearted elephant can’t persuade his neighbors to believe what he hears.

In this context then, “small” is relative, and as far as good old Horton is concerned, is all the more reason for him to extend help to it in times of need. We are reminded that in our own world, the right thing for the rich and powerful to do is to lend the weak and vulnerable a helping hand when called for. Horton sends us the unequivocal message that there is need for compassion and empathy for our fellow human beings regardless of how low their social status is.

Just as would happen in our real world, Horton’s good intentions are thwarted by narrow-minded Kangaroo and others whose bigotry and lack of imagination create a wall between themselves and the truth, which almost cost the lives of the Whoville inhabitants. Happily in the end, through Horton’s relentless entreaty and the joint determination and innovative efforts of the Whoville people to make themselves heard, the opponents finally came round to Horton’s assertion that Whoville does exist.

While Horton’s kindness and generosity in his mission to protect the weak and helpless makes this loving character a perfect role model for humankind, the unremitting courage and creative thinking of the Whoville people in times of adversity should also be exemplary virtues for the human world.

This animation film was adapted from one of Theodor (Ted) Seuss Geisel’s famous children’s books “Horton Hears a Who”, which was published in 1954.

The talented author started using the pseudonym of Seuss when he was in his college days. At that time he had been working as the editor-in-chief of a humor magazine called Jack-O-Lantern. One time he was caught throwing a party against school policy and subsequently was forced to use a pseudonym in the magazine. Seuss was in fact his mother’s maiden name and his middle name.

He was born in Massachusetts of German immigrant parents in 1904 and as a child he managed to overcome discrimination by taking part in student activities – a good display of courage and imagination in the face of adversity.

Geisel had been a doodler at heart since his childhood and spent his early years working as a cartoonist/illustrator. He made a career change around mid-life and became a children’s book writer/illustrator. Meanwhile, he never gave up his love of doodling and took on painting as a hobby, often creating vivid scenes with skewed images and contrasting bright colors against a much darker background, creating an illusion of the subject popping out of the painting.

One famous eccentricity of Geisel’s was that he kept a large collection of hats, from which he would from time to time select one and put on as his “thinking cap” to help relieve the stress of creative blocks. Many of his creative works were done inside an old observation tower in La Jolla, California, which he and Helen (his first wife) bought in 1948 as their primary residence. His works in later years were mostly socially conscious books/illustrations.

The world certainly needs more writers/illustrators like Geisel to remind us to listen to and connect with that child in us, who would always insist on seeing the good triumph over the evil.