Hayward Hears a Who - Director talks New Dr. Seuss Film

For fans of the legendary children's book creator Dr. Seuss, this moment has been a long time in coming: a 3D-animated feature film based on one of the venerable author's beloved tales is finally a reality. "Horton Hears A Who!" opens in cinemas this Friday and stars a who's who of comedy's funniest talents. The cast includes Jim Carrey voicing Horton and Steve Carell as The Mayor of Who-Ville. The film also stars comic legend Carol Burnett, "Knocked Up" star Seth Rogan, "Superbad" star Jonah Hill, "SNL's" Amy Poehler and breakout "Arrested Development" player Will Arnett.

Directing "Horton Hears A Who!" is Jimmy Hayward, who previously animated such Pixar features as "Finding Nemo," "Toy Story" and "Monsters, Inc." before moving to Fox's Blue Sky Studios. A lifelong Dr. Seuss fan, Hayward spoke with CBR News about the hotly anticipated movie, bringing Who-Ville to life, and working with his incredibly funny cast.

This is the third Dr. Seuss book to be made into a feature film – following "The Grinch" and "The Cat in the Hat" -- but the first to be produced in CGI animation. How did that come together?

It feels like the way it should be done. We're at a place with the technology where we could make the film this way and it felt like the best way to do it. It just seemed like the natural way to go. This is the type of animation that I've always wanted to do my entire career and haven't been able to. It's great working on a property like this, to be able to do animation like this. I just think that his work, his illustrations and his imagination lend themselves to this medium because there is no limit to what we can do.

How faithful is "Horton Hears a Who" to Dr. Seuss book? Did anything have to be left out? Did anything have to be added?

Obviously, taking that short book we had to round out the story, but I think it all ready did have a solid beginning, middle and end. One of the things we did was we left Horton's story alone. What happens to Horton in the book happens to Horton in the movie. When I was a kid, I'd look through the book and I'd look at the pages of Who-Ville. I always wanted run around with those little fur guys in roller skates and play tag. So what we did was we expanded the story of Who-Ville because it's an awesome place. We wanted to make it a place that you wouldn't want to leave. We wanted to give the audience the opportunity to ride around a place like Who-Ville and really check it out.

What can Dr. Seuss Fans expect from the film?

I think they can expect a level of authenticity, design, architecture and character animation that is just superb. We looked at [Dr. Seuss'] entire body of work to make this picture. We went to his archives and we read every single manuscript. We held the originally drawings for all his work. We looked at his sculptures to see how he rendered stuff in three demensions. We really looked at the original Grinch cartoon, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" (1966), which we think is a great success. We looked at his entire body of work to make this. So I think real fans are going to feel immersed in his world.

What was the most difficult challenge in bringing this book to the big screen?

The most difficult thing was the challenge of staying true to the look, the feel and the tone of his work. That was the biggest challenge. There were some huge technical challenges. One of the things we really wanted to keep authentic from the book was the massive clover-field that Vlad (Will Arnett) drops the clover in. We literally put a billion real fur clovers in a field. I think it was about half a billion. Each clover has like eight hundred thousand individual hairs on it. They blow in the wind like a Kansas wheat field in that sad moment in the film when Horton's picking the clovers trying to find the Whos.

How did you end up directing this movie?

I had been working with 20th Century Fox as a writer and they sent me out to work on the movie "Robots," to help put some more comedy into it and help pull that movie together. I came in at the end of that picture and wrote some scenes with the director, Chris Wedge. We really got along and I subsequently ended up directing some scenes on that film. I had befriended the executive producer and then head of animation at 20th Century Fox, Christopher Meledandri. He said, "Hey man, lets make a movie. What do you think about 'Horton Hears a Who?'" I said, "Dude, that was my favorite book when I was a kid."

In fact, my Mom dragged my copy out and sent it to me. The spine's got gaffer tape all over it because it's blown out and it say's "Jimmy" in sharpie on the front. I looked at that thing for hours. I loved it and I had always hoped to bring it to the big screen. I think a bunch of other studios were after the property, so Chris started a relationship with Audrey Geisel, his widow. We showed her some sculptures and a version of the movie's story that I had started to develop. She gave us the property so Fox green-lighted the movie and away we went.

"Horton Hears a Who" is loaded with some of the funniest people in show business. Tell us about the casting process and what these talents brought to the film.

I think some people think we were stunt casting and just tried to pack in as many famous people as we could. But I learned early on when I worked at Pixar that working with great improvisational comedians and great improvisational actors is the best way to make an animated film. Given the length of time it takes to make an animated film, if you've got great improvisational actors you can take small things they come up with or big things they come up with and expand them into real parts of the role. It gives the actors a much bigger stake in the film.

We cast people like Seth [Rogan], Jonah [Hill] and Will [Arnett] years ago because we thought they were brilliant improvisational actors. Jim Carrey is an extremely prepared, extremely dedicated, very funny dude. He's a collaborative spirit and wants to spend as many hours as it takes to get it right. Steve Carell is the same way. Carol Burnett is a great improvisational comedian. Back on her show in the '70s ["The Carol Burnett Show"], which all of us were obsessed with, they didn't really rehearse because they didn't know what Harvey Korman was going to do. She's told me that. I think the thing for us was to get great improvisational comedians and actors. People like Will Arnett just make me laugh all the time when I'm around them. Steve Carell's the same way and Jim's the same way. We got our first choice in every role, which is incredible. I mean, that just doesn't happen. That shows you how much people revered the source material.

Was there a lot of ad-libbing? How close did the actors stick to Dr. Seuss's text?

The only thing that we stayed real faithful to was the narration that Charles Osgood did from Dr. Seuss. Jim re-wrote every line he did. Steve probably did close to the same. It was always an improvisational thing. We just laughed our heads off and came up with fun stuff. We laughed through the whole process and had a blast doing it the whole time and I think it translates to the screen.

You're a comics and animation fan. Is it true there's an anime sequence in "Horton Hears a Who?"

Of course, I love comic books. I grew up loving comic books. I actually lived for ten years over Al's Comics in San Francisco. I love that comic books and the movie world are coming together so much. And of course I love anime, which is why I put an anime sequence in the film.

We do a thing were we push-in on Horton's forehead. The first time we push-in to Horton's forehead to show what he's thinking in his head, we do it in 2-D animation. Just like in the book. It looks exactly like Dr. Seuss illustrations animated, but in 2-D. Then we do it again and we do it a little more involved. And then later when he's imagining that he's a great hero, when he finally realizes that he has to take care of the speck and he's Kung-Fu-kicking branches and stuff. We push-in on his imagination and do this absolutely ridiculous anime sequence. It's all in his head and we mimic about five different styles of anime in it.

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