horton hears the millennials

If you want a good primer on Millennial Generation values…

And if you want some good impact points for members of the Millennial Generation (which includes roughly the class of 2007 on)…

Go see “Horton Hears a Who!” Really. (IMDB, official site)

Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who!

Last semester, I noted how the musical “Wicked” in many ways connects to the present generation (here’s that). Now it’s time for “Horton,” which is a pretty powerful movie from where I’m sittin’. Yes, the animation is spectacular, the voices are great, and the story is strong. But the adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s “Horton Hears a Who!” also reflects some key facets of this generation – and has some themes that could be impactful for them, too.

Millennials believe a person’s a person…

Within this generation, there is a widespread suspicion that one individual really can impact the world. In the case of “Horton Hears a Who!,” this is doubly true; not only does a big, goofy elephant (voiced by Jim Carrey) very literally work to save a world, but a bumbling mayor (Steve Carell) does his separate part for the same cause. And yet in these very parallel worlds (the parallelism is a cool element throughout), other individuals are desperately required in the moments that matter the most, using the unique gifts, talents, and even just proximity they possess.

…No matter how small.

Millennials have an uncanny ability to see a world of importance in the really small: building one well in Africa, or rescuing one “invisible child,” for instance.

In “Horton,” the kangaroo’s kid is small (and pouched); the Mayor’s son is small (and silent). The Mayor, meanwhile, is really small, along with the whole of Whoville, a world in a speck on a clover. And, though big in size, Horton the Elephant is small in the eyes of certain Jungle-dwellers who would rather call an Elephant crazy than imagine anything that can’t be seen, heard, or felt. (Any spiritual implications there?)

But no matter how small, each of these characters play a part distinctly their own, and the consequences of their decisions to act make a “world” of difference. Millennials can feel kinda small, too, with the deck stacked against them by their leaders. But changing the world is still on the to-do list, because “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

So Millennials could really use some ears.

We run the risk of angst and disillusionment creeping in among Millennials when we won’t hear the “small.” If you do see this movie, be sure to notice all the reasons and ways the truth is squashed (in both worlds) – pretty great analogies, in my opinion.

Some Christian reviewers will probably relish pointing out that all the “bad guys” are authority figures. That is neither accurate nor what is really communicated here. Yeah, a mom stands in the way (of Horton); a council stands in the way (of the Mayor). But the Mayor – also a dad – is obviously an authority figure, too, and only by taking his stand does he prove a hero.

That’s this generation – it’s not a Gen. X anti-authority cynicism at work as much as a realization that authority can go wrong like anybody can. And anybody gets the opportunity to be right. So position doesn’t indicate right-ness; right-ness indicates right-ness. “Position” is rather irrelevant, but greatness can be earned.

There is a thing called right-ness.

This is a point where “Horton” preaches just what this culture needs to hear, as the film (intentionally or not) offers a strong notion of absolute truth. Everything hinges on the fact that “Horton was right.”

It doesn’t matter how much the truth is considered unprovable and unscientific (in Horton’s jungle). It doesn’t matter that the truth conflicts with a culture for which happiness and optimism are the supreme values (in Whoville). The truth is truth – even if it comes from a tiny speck or an invisible voice from the sky – and is therefore worth the persecution received and the stand required (each powerfully displayed throughout this movie.)

For both Horton and the Mayor, there’s a Reality beyond the surrounding “reality.” As I heard Tim Keller say last week at Stanford, “The Matrix” taught us that, right?

And this truth, I would tell college students if I had ’em, only matters because it’s true. Horton’s misidentification of the leaf-bug (just a leaf) makes that point well enough; it’s only when the flower really has a world on it that it’s worth giving his life for. But when it does, that one true world is worth digging through 3 million and 4 very similar-looking flowers to find.

Once we know the truth…

…zeal and commitment are the only sensible responses. On the zeal, our students could often teach us; they may need our prodding when it comes to the commitment part. But “Horton” presents both, lauding radical focus, total commitment, and obnoxious integrity. Whether bridging precarious canyons, counting tedious flowers, refusing to recant, lunging against the ropes, or speaking up when silence is easiest, living sacrifice makes sense when the cause is true.

Not 99% commitment, either, though Horton’s mouse friend urges it.

“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant
And an elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.”

Ears to hear

I really loved this show.

This movie is a lot about being heard, and it’s very even-handed here, noting that this requires both speaking up (or just speaking at all) and also somebody listening.

It has taken some awful big ears for some in the Church to hear the Who first and respond in relevant ways. (Not that they’ve always gotten it right, either.) But as a non-Millennial who really likes and hopefully hears this newest generation, I feel a little outnumbered at times. We’re quick as Christians to decry the up-and-comers and this “wicked generation.” But one of these days, we have got to get around to hearing what this Millennial Gen offers to Christendom. If we’d just believe a little, they might be willing to speak – while others, from an Elephant’s-eye view, get to offer their wisdom on reality, as well.

Written near George Fox University, Newberg, OR

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