Animation Cel-ebration
June 6, 2022 posted by Michael Lyons

The 80th Anniversary of “Horton Hatches the Egg”

This is a recipe for success: take the whimsy of Dr. Seuss, add in the irreverence of classic Warner Bros. animation and allow a genius like director Bob Clampett to stir.

The result is the 1942 short subject, Horton Hatches the Egg.

Initially published in 1940 as a book by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), the book’s popularity eventually brought it to Warner Bros as an animation project. Early in the production process, the artists remained close, very close, to the book. In fact, they wrote and sketched ideas right on the pages as they adapted them.

Horton Hatches the Egg tells the tale of Horton, the elephant who is tricked into sitting on an egg in a nest when the mother, Mayzie, decides to rest and go on vacation (to Palm Beach, no less). Horton endures several challenges, including stormy weather, being laughed at by the other animals in the jungle, hunters, and eventually being taken to a circus and put on display.

Through it all, the innocent, steadfast and true elephant never leaves the egg, keeping his promise to Mayzie and repeating in true Seuss rhyme: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.”

The egg does hatch and what emerges is a cute “elephant bird” that looks like Horton with wings. The two eventually return together to the jungle.

The “lost” original title card for this classic cartoon – The film element is long gone. The original artwork was saved by Bob Clampett – and the art is part of Clampett estate.

While Horton Hatches the Egg did keep many elements from the book, most notably translating much of Dr. Seuss’ look to the short (particularly in the look of the animals).

Additionally, the rhyming prose of the book is used, but there are also many instances in which the Warners’ artists inserted their humor. These include Mayzie breaking into a brief impression of Katherine Hepburn at one point and Horton singing “The Hut-Sut Song,” a popular tune of the time.

Horton Hatches the Egg featured the voices of Kent Rogers as Horton, Sara Berner as Mayzie, and Mel Blanc as several characters, including one of the hunters.

Released on April 11th, 1942, Horton Hatches the Egg celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. In the short, Dr. Seuss and Warner Bros. animation co-exist very comfortably together. As Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald note in their book Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons: “Clampett is able to inject his style and contemporary Warner Bros. humor and still remain faithful (100%) to Dr. Seuss.”

OFFICIAL SCREEN CREDITS: Supervision: Robert Clampett. Adaptation: Michael Maltese. Animation: Robert McKimson. Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.

VOICES: (courtesy of Keith Scott from his forthcoming book) Frank Graham (Narrator / a hunter), Kent Rogers (Horton / A Friend / Giraffe / Fish as Peter Lorre), Sara Berner (Mayzie / Elephant Bird), Mel Blanc (“How absurd!” / Small hunter / “It’s something brand new!”), Bob Clampett (a Hunter), Bill Days, Max Smith, Thurl Ravenscroft, John Rarig, Paul Taylor (Vocal group singing).

32 Comments

  • “NOW I’ve seen EVERYTHING!” (*BLAM!*)

  • After Dr. Seuss passed away, I saw a clip from this cartoon on a TV special about his life and work, and it completely blew my mind. “What??? Bob Clampett directed a Warner Bros. cartoon in the 1940s based on a Dr. Seuss book? Why am I only hearing about this now?” The very idea was as bizarre as if, say, UPA had made a cartoon out of an Edgar Allan Poe story. Many years went by before I finally saw “Horton Hatches the Egg”, and I was glad to see that it was such a faithful rendition of the story — not one hundred percent, of course, but a good 80 to 90. There are a few distracting Clampettisms — the Hollywood impersonations, the now-I’ve-seen-everything suicide gag — that are irrelevant to the story and don’t contribute anything to it. But, given his penchant for unbridled lunacy, it’s remarkable that Clampett reined himself in and served the story as well as he did.

    “Horton Hatches the Egg” is the longest cartoon Warner Bros. produced, at just under ten minutes. This is the same length of time it takes to read the story out loud.

    It occurs to me now that the colour scheme of the book is ideally suited to two-component Technicolor, but by 1942 nobody was using that any more.

    Does anyone know Geisel’s opinion of this cartoon?

  • Mayzie’s voice (besides the brief Kate Hepburn rahhlly I do) is an impersonation of Ann Sothern who starred in the Maisie film series at MGM during this time.

    When watching this on CN growing up I remember the Peter Lorre fish suicide gag was cut

  • This toon is immortal, one hundred percent.

  • A couple of times Mayzie is a little “off model” and looks more like Daffy Duck painted green. Also, one of the hunters looks suspiciously like Elmer Fudd with a beard.

  • I remember vividly the first time I saw this in black and white on TV. The fish saying, Now I’ve seen everything,” in the Peter Lorre voice and blowing his brains out blew my mind. Still does. That’s pure Bob Clampett.

  • Re: “Does anyone know Geisel’s opinion of this cartoon?”

    I only read that he didn’t like that WB apparently didn’t compensate him properly to adapt the story, but no idea what he thought of the cartoon specifically.

  • All I can add to this is that I wish I did read this book before viewing the Robert Clampett cartoon way back in the day, that is my day of being able to see this cartoon on television. I am just curious as to how well this cartoon relates to the book, line by line. In other words, does the text actually mention Palm Beach? What is this book actually re-issued years ago as part of, possibly, a completist box set of all of Suess’s books?

    • Yes, Palm Beach is mentioned in the book. (There’s also a long list of cities where the circus went, arranged in Seussian rhyming verse, that didn’t make it into the cartoon.) The box set you’re thinking of is the six-volume “Six by Seuss”, issued about 25 years ago, and yes, “Horton Hatches the Egg” is part of that collection; I bought it for my niece when she was little. There are some very good narrations of the original text available on YouTube, well worth listening to.

  • The model sheets are signed by Nic Gibson. Read more about him here. https://tralfaz.blogspot.com/2014/01/gibson-and-elephant.html

    • Thanks for the link to your post, Don – and for all your wonderful posts on Tralfaz.

  • Dad first learned about Horton Hatches the Egg from writer and storyboard artist, Warren Foster, who showed Dad a picture in the newspaper of an elephant up in a tree. Soon after, the mother of a student who was in a puppetry workshop Dad was running, showed him the book. Dad loved the story and convinced Leon Schlesinger it would make a great cartoon. So Dad approached Theodor Geisel and although he only got paid $200 for the rights, Geisel (who was not well known at that time) knew it would help book sales and he was right!

    At one point Leon felt that the cartoon wasn’t funny enough, so the various gags were inserted. I don’t know how Geisel felt about that, but I do know that he appreciated how the characters in the cartoon looked and acted very true to the book. It was the first Dr. Seuss animation ever done.

    Dad believed that sometimes it’s not just having your own ideas and stories, it’s recognizing great talent and collaborating.

    • Hi Ruth,
      Not to be criticizing Bob’s wonderful Horton cartoon, but this was NOT the first time Dr. Seuss material was animated. In June, 1931, Warner Bros. released two Dr. Seuss cartoons which he directed, “‘Neath the Bababa Tree” and “Put on The Spout”. These were theatrical commercials for Flit insect repellent, and I don’t think were as well received by the public as “Horton Hatches The Egg”. They don’t seem to have been preserved, as as far as I know, no copies have turned up. Thanks for your comment!
      Mark Kausler

      • Thanks for bringing those up, Mark. I hope those lost films will turn up someday.

        As for HORTON – one could say its the first animated adaptation of a Dr. Suess book – because it certainly was! And for many years – decades – it was the one to beat. Clampett certainly set the high bar!

      • Hi Mark,
        Thanks for sharing that information…I was never aware of those earlier earlier Dr Seuss theatrical commercials.

  • Being both a Seuss nut and a classic Looney Tunes nut, I was in love with this one the very moment I laid eyes on it. It’s amazing how the Warner artists can inject their trademark irreverence without it clashing in tone with the more innocent story.

  • Growing up in the 50s-60s, by 5 years of age i had seen (& memorized) EVERY one of the (syndicated) WB films there were to be seen. Am I crazy….or was this film NOT in that “package,” per se?? I have only seen it in “recent” years, not among my youthful tv-a-thons.

    • I know that I saw it on TV in the ’80s, maybe also in the late ’70s, though I can’t be sure if it was shown on WGN, TBS, or both. I’m also pretty sure that, at that time, the suicide gag was left intact.

    • Wayne, Agreed. I’ve seen this OVER ten min./ carton many times, but,basically, the good Dr.’s earlier Horton Books in the sixties was what I really knew, but in 1976, local Los Angeles syndicaed KCOP-`13 DID ( much my teenage dellight) show this.

      Justin, agred!

      Ruth, even after ALL these still, I STILL feel your dad got a bum rap from people like Chuck Jones and others due to those feuds. While Bob COULD tel tall tales, many were factual…and I love that Beany had a character named Baby Ruth!

      Mark K., right on. Even with all its misinformation, Jeff Lenburg mentioned what you did in his editions of his Animated Cartoon book ..was always wondering about those two early cartoons, which, otherwise, never get mentioned by others books.

      MJM, thanks for that comment..not just Kate but ANN SOTHERN’s Maisie films was a influence on the bird’s voice AND NAME!

    • Sounds like I’m a bit older than Wayne – I was six when we got our first TV in late 1952 – but I was devouring cartoons from the start. I can’t say exactly when various cartoon packages started showing up, but I can say that my close familiarity with Horton goes way, way back. I have to think I was watching it on San Francisco Bay Area stations possibly in the late 50s and almost for sure in the 1960s.

    • Yup, I was a toon-devouring child in the 50s-60s also. Saw the entire a.a.p. package when it first appeared. And I definitely remember Horton included. This was in the Omaha media market.

      I saw gobs of cartoons from many studios at the time. The only major studio missing was MGM; even then, I remember several Happy Harmonies titles.

      The regional film distributor (whose name I forget) was loaded with cartoons. Saturday “cartoon festival” screenings at theatres were a goldmine of animation history.

    • I saw this cartoon a lot of times in the 1960’s on tv. I don’t think it was during the ‘official’ Warner Bros Bugs Bunny Show, which was broadcast nationally on Saturdays, it was a local tv station that mostly showed the WB cartoons from the 30’s and early 40’s including the WW2 ones that were later removed from common circulation. Even as a kid I paid attention to who the director was, as I found that with one notable exception that based on who directed a cartoon pretty accurately predicted how much I would like it. Bob Clampett was (and is) definitely one of my favorites.

  • One of Bob Clampett’s best cartoons and one of my favorites.

  • Bob Clampett, typical of so many creative artists, was still nitpicking about things in his own work thirty years later. He bemoaned the fact that he should have had Kent Rogers singing the recurring “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant” instead of just speaking it to Stalling’s underscore theme. Also he was still regretting a couple of scenes being a little labored, timing wise, but I can’t recall what. He was also proud that he gave Frank Graham, as the narrator, his earliest Warner cartoon. The track was recorded in 1941, but the film took some time to complete.

  • PS WOW: SO FINALY Keith Scott will have out that book he’s long talked about (name still unknown to me).IF ANYone knows about those theatrical and very early TV cast credits..it’s him..!

  • I’m still a bit surprised that this short didn’t make it in “The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes” book. Maybe if “MeTV” does a marathon based on the book, this short might sub in any of the Clampett shorts that aren’t safe to air on the network.

  • Actually, by all accounts, Dr. Seuss disliked the interpolated gags, as he would more than 20 years later with “The Grinch.” God knows what he would have said about the features. It’s a case of there being no real right or wrong: authors usually disapprove of adaptations of their work. “Horton” nonetheless is a great cartoon (although I’ve been known to yell back at the screen “And a brawla brawla suet!” when Horton can’t remember the lyrics), and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a classic TV special. The features? Oh, well.

  • Seems almost incomprehensible now that there was a time when Dr. Seuss wouldn’t rate an above-the-title mention on the lobby card of an adaption of one of his works. But James Swinnerton – who’s practically forgotten now save for comics historians and enthusiasts – did for Mighty Hunters (1940). As Ruth Clampett correctly stated above, he just wasn’t a “name” at that time.

  • The following year George Pal served up the first of two Seuss adaptations, but both went either farther afield. Pal kept his usual Puppetoon visual style, and in “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” rewrote a good chunk of the story to dispose of the king’s spoiled son. Going to guess the good doctor wasn’t much happier, as I’m not sure we saw another book adaptation until the Grinch TV special.

  • Let’s not forget Pal’s subsequent And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036601/

  • Here’s a link to a fairly decent print of the film:

    https://www.b98.tv/video/horton-hatches-egg/

  • Hut Sut Rawlson on the Rillerah
    And so
    And so
    And so
    And so forth…

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