Cat in the Hat, The
Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat is an American classic; it's fantastic and
fun--it's true. There's a Cat, and a Hat, and some Things and two kids, and the tykes have nothing to do. But while the movie wants to be red, white and even occassionally blue, it feels a bit forced--all the way through.
The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold, wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall, talking, adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK, maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish, the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down, then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this, one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957, into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot, talking fish and all, it obviously tries to flesh things out, adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules, while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning), an uptight control freak, has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother, Joan (Kelly Preston), works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes), and she's dating the guy next door, Quinn (Alec Baldwin), a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold, wet day in question, Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives, he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes), the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch, Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly, slightly sarcastic, wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack), an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous, as are the hilarious little asides he spouts, although they'll probably go over kids' heads: ''Well, sure, [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No, not really.'' But even though Myers has some fun moments, he just isn't the Barney type, and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh, he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids, Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with, although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players, Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn, a bad-guy role that, while a little superfluous, gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains, then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun, magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat, however, he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner, the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead, Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch, who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat, especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool, too, from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger, or S.L.O.W vehicle, to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger, or D.I.R.T. mobile, for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world, though, the film's Seussian look starts to have problems, possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate, the Cat's world can produce ''the mother of all messes,'' and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso, and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).
Have no fear; shed no tear. The Cat in the Hat is too cute and too sunny, but you'll have good fun 'cause Mike Myers is funny.