Rated PG - Running Time: 1:18 - Released 11/21/03

When I heard that Mike Myers was going to be appearing in a live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s book The Cat In The Hat, with obvious similarities to Ron Howard’s hilarious 2000 version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, I thought, wow—this is going to be great. Once again, I am proven how wrong I can be. Myers, who has delighted us for years in his numerous Austin Powers characterizations, and for years before that on Saturday Night Live, falls flat on his whiskers in a performance that can only be classified as a poor imitation of Carrey’s high-impact Grinch of 3 years ago. Adapted for the big screen by Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer, whose combined talents have been applied to such successful TV shows as Seinfeld and SNL, and directed by Bo Welch (his big-screen debut after years as a production designer), this movie seems to miss the entire point of Dr. Seuss’s intentions, transforming the ornery but ultimately well-meaning titular Cat into a crass, unfunny creep in cat’s clothing, and turning the book’s fanciful story of childlike imagination into another Hollowwood merchandising opportunity.

The story begins on a rainy day, when two pre-teen siblings named Conrad and Sally (Spencer Breslin, Dakota Fanning) are stuck inside their lavender-colored house with a boring, sleeping babysitter (Amy Hill) and nothing to do. Their mother (Kelly Preston), who is planning a party for her real estate co-workers, has told the kids in no uncertain terms that the house is to stay spotless, despite Conrad’s predilection toward out-of-control behavior. Wondering what they can do inside that is fun and quiet, the sibs are interrupted by a bump upstairs. When they go to investigate, they discover a six-foot-tall cat (well, seven if you count the hat) who offers a chance at wondrous, unbridled fun all day long, provided they sign the thick contract prepared by his lawyers. After a few moments of hesitation by Sally, who is a hopeless control freak, they sign, and begin a whirlwind of activity which not only breaks the clear-cut rules their mom had set down, but practically reduces their house to a pile of rubble. Although the cat himself is not blameless, it is the release of his two ne’er-do-well friends, Thing One and Thing Two (played by Danielle Chuchran and Brittany Oakes, with the voice[s] of Dan Castellaneta, a.k.a. Homer Simpson), which really rachets up the destruction.

To paraphrase Woody Allen, if Dr. Seuss were alive to see this production, he would never stop throwing up. While the film’s look, the make-up, costumes, set design, and visual effects have a fantastic (and often surrealistic) feel, the preponderance of bathroom- and adult humor in the script leads to a general sense of unease, like watching a clown tell dirty jokes at a child’s birthday party. I couldn’t help thinking over and over, this is supposed to be for kids? A baseball bat to the crotch, a dog urinating in someone’s food, a mother’s picture leered at with obvious sexual implications...I don’t remember any of this stuff in my weathered old copy of The Cat In The Hat, the memory of which stretches from the late ‘60s, when it was being read to me, to the mid-’90s, when I was reading it to my kids. The addition of this adult-oriented humor is no accident, of course; it’s an obvious attempt on the part of the writers and producers at Dreamworks/Universal to appeal to larger audience. Once again, folks, it’s about MONEY. If you can make teens laugh as well as little ones, there’s more dough to be made. So…what are we trying to teach the kids again?

There are funny moments in this film. Myers’s act is not a total failure, although I feel he’s better at more subtle, cerebral humor than this kind of off-the-wall mugging and flailing. But it’s the script, this bastardization of Dr. Seuss’s whimsical, childlike verse, that has hamstrung Myers’s best intentions. The addition of bad Seuss-style poetry, which doesn’t scan or rhyme nearly as well as the old master’s, and of additional characters, like a conniving neighbor, played by Alec Baldwin, and a persnickety boss (Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes), only emphasizes that this is too much of a departure from the source text to be considered faithful. The whole sub-plot about the Things’ crate containing a portal into the Seussian universe which must be contained to keep the kids’ house in order is completely fabricated and, while leading to one of the more colorful and surreal sequences, seems more like an excuse to pad out the movie’s running time than any homage to Ted Geisel. And those “Things” are downright disturbing.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Tim Allen was originally cast for this part, but was forced to pull out because of scheduling difficulties. It’s interesting to ponder how different this movie would have been if he had been available, but without a change of writers, I daresay the result would have been similar. Probably a lot better for Mike Myers, though. **

Copyright 2003 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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