Please note: The following text contains spoilers. Viewer discretion is also advised – Horton Hears a Who! is rated ‘U’. For more details on the film’s content from a Christian perspective, read Focus on The Family’s review from Plugged In:
I’m so glad that the story of Horton Hears a Who! exists – both in the form of literature yes, but particularly in regard to its cinematic & television adaptations. Not only is the tale wildly imaginative, but it carries messages worthy to be instilled within all of us. Without contest, however, my favourite of the book’s adaptations is 2008’s Horton Hears a Who! – it’s playfully zany, epic in scope, and thankfully retains the allegorical messages which are commonplace, in the Dr. Seuss oeuvre. Most notable is that of a message conveyed by Horton himself: "A person's a person, no matter how small”. And whilst the film’s strikingly simple messages have been interpreted by various people, in numerous ways, the fact remains that they have key links to Gospel Message which cannot be ignored…
Apparently eager to return to the wonderful world of Dr. Seuss, Jim Carrey energetically voices the eponymous, care-free pachyderm, whose misadventures lead him to experience what he describes as “an amazing cosmic convergence”: Someone from a tiny planet, situated on a speck of dust, lets out a tiny yelp. In attempting to contact its microscopic inhabitant, Horton makes the (audible) acquaintance of Mayor Ned McDodd (Steve Carell), who informs him that Horton is in fact carrying the entire city of Whoville and its inhabitants. Realising that the Whos are in grave danger, due to threat of the jungle landscape and some unsavoury characters, Horton is filled with compassion and pledges to make a home for their ‘speck’, atop Mt. Nool - the safest place in the jungle.
Whilst the story is fondly remembered for an overarching message that closely resembles the pro-life viewpoint, I’ve come to find that the relationship between Horton and Mayor Ned, functions as a worthy allegory for having faith in that which is unseen. From the very beginning, when Horton is first alerted to the idea that someone on the speck actually let out a sound, he struggles with the idea that such an anomaly could actually exist. This is fuelled by Sour Kangaroo, an uppity animal who refuses to believe that the Whos exist, because she “can’t see, hear or feel” them. But Horton reasons that there is indeed a small civilisation living upon the speck, because he says (and knows), “I heard you”. Without ever being able to see a single Who, Horton wholeheartedly believes they exist and that he has a duty of care to them and their world. Of course, our human minds would consider such behaviour as irrational, just as the fellow animals of the jungle do. But Horton knows in his heart what is true, and because he draws close to the voice, actually comes to learn of the Whos existence and the entire world inhabited upon the speck.
Unbeknownst to him, Horton is living out the biblical definition of faith as written in Hebrews 11:1 (GNT): “…faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see”. Whilst he cannot see the Whos themselves, Horton remains open and willing to actively believe that there is life existing upon the speck, beyond what he can see. And this is the same kind of faith that God calls for humanity to have in Him, because His desire is for all “people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”, which can only be found in relationship with God (1 Timothy 2:3-4, NIV) when we put our faith and hope in Him. But there are many whom we encounter in our day-to-day lives who live just as the Sour Kangaroo does, believing that the message of Jesus is foolishness: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV). However, the Bible teaches that those who earnestly call upon the name of Jesus, regardless of what the world says, will be sustained by Him as they journey through this life, drawing ever closer to eternity spent with Him. It is them whom the Bible teaches will “rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy” in the present, because they know and are known by God, but will later receive the “salvation of (their) souls” as a reward for “trusting Him” (1 Peter 1:8-9, NLT). Yes, Horton encounters a great many difficulties in his dedication to saving the Whos, but there is also great rejoicing for Him at the film’s end. For we know he has ‘kept the faith’ in spite of everything and not compromised his beliefs to appease others or save himself, which ultimately saves Whoville.
There is also a duality to the allegory of faith, featured within Horton Hears A Who! Not only does Horton himself go on a journey and exploration of faith, but so too does Mr. Mayor. Whilst he believes wholeheartedly in Horton’s existence (he hears his voice, witnesses his control over the weather when he puts the ‘speck’ in the shade…), He too struggles with voices around him who don’t believe in the existence of Horton, whom he communicates with through a modified pipe which has been fitted with a gramophone horn, for amplification. Try as he might, the town simply won’t listen to Mayor Ned – even when he informs them of their impending doom, due to Whoville being the size of a speck and situated on a clover which certain characters in Horton’s world, are seeking to destroy. No, they are a happy to go on with their lives as usual, because they “can’t see, hear or feel” the dangers which surround them, or Horton himself. They are satisfied in continuing to live their life as if they weren’t at risk of destruction at all. Even when these are visible signs which clearly point to the dangers Mayor Ned refers to, they seek to rationalise such things and cast them aside. Humanity, by and large however, are just the same. We have all lived from a place of ignorance, choosing to reject God, thereby remaining blissfully unaware of the eternal consequences for our sin: “…what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–21, ESV). Like the Whos, humanity has been so wrapped up in its own sinful desires that we reject the only One who can save us (God alone), those who point us to Him by labelling them “crazy” or “deluded”, and then fall prey to Satan: “They do not believe, because their minds have been kept in the dark by the evil god of this world. He keeps them from seeing the light shining on them, the light that comes from the Good News about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4, GNT). But we are in need of a saviour, and His name is Jesus Christ – the One who took the weight of our mistakes upon Himself and destroyed their power forever through His death and resurrection, making a way for us to be united with our Father in Heaven both now, and in eternity.
And Mr. Mayor, in his desire to save the town, knew that they too were in need of a saviour. So, he continues to tell everyone of Horton’s existence, encouraging them to simply believe in and call out to him with a loud cry, so that they might be saved. And, by some miracle, they do – which enables Horton to point certain villains to tangible evidence, which proves their existence. Of course, humanity is not at all in need of trying to prove their existence to an almighty God. However, we are in equally desperate need of Him, within whom we can place our hope. Thankfully, we need not petition Him, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, NLT).
Why not prayerfully invite a friend or family member who doesn’t yet know Jesus, to watch Horton Hears A Who! for themselves? Use the film’s themes to ask them what they thought of the film, if they spotted any links to Christianity and what they might think of the Gospel’s response to this subject.
If you feel able to, ask them what they think about the film’s understanding of faith, and the characters themselves – do they develop some semblance of faith in something or someone, throughout the course of the film? If so, what does that look like? Might they have faith in something or someone, in a similar way to these characters? Ask them how such a faith influences their life.
Take the opportunity to also discuss with them the unbelief of various characters throughout the film, such as the Kangaroo. Ask them to imagine that they were in Horton or the Mayor’s shoes - if they didn’t believe you, what would you do? Have they been in that position before? If so, what did it feel like? Or have they ever been in the position of having unbelief towards something? If you feel prompted to, ask them at this moment what it is that might hold them back from believing in Jesus and why. Take the opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel message with them, encouraging them in the knowledge that Jesus wants to be in close, tangible friendship with them today because of what Jesus has done for us, by dying on the cross and rising again three days later, which defeated the power of death and darkness. Finish by letting them know that we need only put our hope and trust in Jesus today (even if the world berates us for it), so that we can be forgiven and receive the blessed assurance of salvation, that comes from a relationship with Jesus. Why not invite them to receive Him for themselves, today?
Prior to watching the film for yourself, however, take a moment to pray that God would speak to you through the show. If you feel comfortable, pray this prayer over all of your future, film-watching experiences:
Dear Lord, as I watch this film, I ask that you would be present here with me. Highlight to me anything within it that is honourable, anything that can be used in conversation for your Kingdom purposes. Amen.
Horton Hears A Who! is currently available to stream on Disney+ (U.K.)