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.
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.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).