With Mom (Kelly Preston) away at work, her children, disobedient Conrad (Spencer Breslin, "Santa Clause 2")
and high-strung Sally (Dakota Fanning, "I Am Sam"), are stuck home under the
sleepy yet watchful eye of their babysitter (Amy Hill). With the edict "Don't
mess up the house" burned into their brains, the children are painfully bored
until an unlikely visitor comes to their rescue. Enter The Cat in the Hat (Mike
Myers). Armed with a cap full of mischief, along with Thing 1 and Thing 2, the
Cat takes Sally and Conrad on a journey of messy pranks and merriment for the
day. Along the way, they try to thwart evil neighbor Quinn (Alec Baldwin), who
plans to steal Mom's heart and send the kids away to military school.
The thing about these Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) translations is that the filmmakers always overcompensate for what Seuss purposefully
left out of his stories. Ron Howard's abysmal 2000 feature, "How The Grinch
Stole Christmas," was front-loaded with special effects and holiday white noise. It went directly against what the good
Doctor was after: whimsy, imagination and poetry. Considering his widow
authorizes these Seuss pictures, one has to wonder just what kind of Sneetches
she's been hanging out with to OK such smears on her husband's good name.
"The Cat in the Hat" (IMDb listing) is a noticeable improvement on the live action Seuss
formula. Directed by former production designer Bo Welch ("Beetlejuice," "Edward
Scissorhands"), "Cat" is a brighter, only slightly less obnoxious production
that benefits immensely from keeping its action confined to two major locations.
It does share with "Grinch" the overridingly garish look of a studio dumping
money into something that would've been just as successful had the minimalist
route been chosen. But compared to the overstuffed "Grinch," "Cat" is
practically "My Dinner With Andre." Welch captures what is now an expected
Seussian landscape of intense colors and slightly askew vistas, only really
pouring on the special effects in the picture's last act, when the Cat turns the
house into a wonderland of purple goo and water slides (as well as a slick plug
for Universal Studios theme parks). "Cat" is technically proficient enough, and
a lot more pleasant to look at than "Grinch," but it's tough to get past the
fact that these Seuss films are poorly conceived and way too overproduced. "Cat"
may not be the crime against nature it could have been, but that doesn't excuse
such a bloated production trampling on the elegant wonderment of the Seuss
And when "Cat" tramples, it positively steam rolls. Only a panicking studio and
production team would cram a Seuss adaptation with this many careless and
entirely unnecessary bodily function gags, which are all (I mean all)
represented here. Some, like belching and vomiting, are recalled more than
once. Dr. Seuss didn't feel the need to include them, so why do the filmmakers keep going back to this tired well of easy gags?
The biggest surprise of "Grinch" was that Ron Howard managed to make Jim Carrey
exceptionally unfunny. I never thought that could happen. Given the same make-up
scheme and tone of production, Mike Myers (whose appearance in "Cat" is due to a
contract dispute resolution) has a little more success trying to squeeze out
laughs from under the prison of his fur bodysuit. Myers, channeling the voice of
Linda Richman and the sugar-binge mannerisms of a carnival barker, is often
uproarious in the title role, jumping from subversive pop culture ribbing
(including infomercials and "Cat in the Hat" raves), to typical Myersesque reaction shots, and back to children's film
entertainer in a matter of moments. Myers has fun tossing the film's PG rating
around, and his Seussian energy isn't at the snapping point Carrey's was in
"Grinch." Along with the rest of the film, Myers is swallowed up in the
purpled-gooed sound and fury, but the idea that the actor could compete
with the extreme level of style and budget the rest of the film is playing at,
and still get a laugh? That's an amazing feat.
I'm not suggesting that "Cat in the Hat" isn't a direct slap in the face of Dr.
Seuss, and every child and parent across the planet that has picked up one
of his books. This truly is a misguided adaptation. Yet compared to the "Grinch,
"Cat" is more of a success story, and just might get some belly laughs.
Filmfodder Grade: C+