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Soundtrack review: Horton hears a who (John Powell – 2008)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Horton hears a who (John Powell – 2008)


“Horton hears a who!” is an animated movie based on the famous (in America at least) Dr. Seuss book. It’s a story about an elephant who suddenly hears a voice speaking to him from a speck of dust. He takes that speck of dust to protect it and actually discovers that it’s an entire planet of tiny creatures. I enjoyed some moments of the movie and, as usual, animation provides a chance for a composer, especially an experienced animation writer like John Powell, to just let his imagination run freely. This review is part of “John Powell month”.

The score opens with “Fall from tree” which is an uplifting and intense theme that even contains choirs. It puts me in a good mood straight away. I see that the score has a dangerous cue to length ratio (34 cues in just under one hour) but it’s hardly noticeable when you listen to it. The pieces flow one after the other for a very enjoyable listen. Since it’s animation, John Powell really goes wild and uses all kind of interesting and unusual sounds and instruments. I heard tango motifs, I hear whimsical sounds and the score jumps from one to the other without me even noticing that it’s a different cue. I can identify though “Enter the Kangaroo” and the action piece “Banana wars” as my favorite from this part of the score.

The variation and adventure in “Horton hears a who!” makes the time go by really fast. I was a little worried about this animation score but I am having a great time. I would recommend the whacky “Into Whoville / Breakfast with the mayor” as the cue to judge this score by. If you like the unexpected twists and turns of this track which in itself plays like a circus show with all its different moments, then you’ll love the score.

“The town council” brings back the choirs just for a moment before playfully smiling with a different sound. “Hello” almost scares me in that funny cartoon way in the beginning. If I had been a character in the movie I would have rolled off my branch and fallen in a puddle of mud during those first few seconds. “The quest” unexpectedly explodes into a rock / big band tune at the end. The score is full of such lovely little surprises.

“Handle with care” opens with a furious string section before introducing the flute and the percussion and it’s one of the more enjoyable orchestral pieces from the score. I almost feel that with this track John Powell lifted the animation veil a little and let us take a peak behind the curtain. I felt as if I was at a puppet show and I saw the strings, because the orchestral work on this cue was so real that it made me forget for one second that I was in an animation movie. “Horton tells of the kangaroo’s duplicity” made me feel the same way. The brass is the star of this track  and I just smile for the whole two and a half minutes.

The action parts are exciting as well. “Vlad attack” sounds better than many John Powell cues written for thrillers. “Power grab” is magic and emotional before getting suspenseful. “Mountain chase” is a proper western tune with the proper choral work and trumpet. Each track has something and the story in the music might even be more enjoyable than the one on screen. “We are here” is just the most delicious musical moment while “Symphonophone” is a Powell invention.

There’s a lot to choose from to enjoy in “Horton hears a who!”. John Powell’s score is a musical candy stor. All the pieces are small but the flavors and colors are varied and I’m sure you’ll find a few to suit your needs. This score is well worth a listen. It would be shame to skip anything though because you would break its flow.

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 14 / 60

Album excellence: 24%


Fall From Tree

Enter the Kangaroo

Into Whoville/ Breakfast with the Mayor

Handle with Care

Snow Day

Mountain Chase

We are Here

JoJo Saves the Day

A Big Ending

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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