The Cat in the Hat
review by Nicholas Schager, 21 November 2003

There are so many things wrong – and repulsive – about Universal’s new adaptation of The Cat in the Hat that it’s hard to know where to begin. Nonetheless, a good place to start is by saying that the film’s only notable triumph is its success in becoming the preeminent example of the vulgarization of children’s entertainment. Crass and offensive, the film is intent on being cute and clever, witty and daring, sweet and bawdy through a fusion of immature gags for the little ones in the audience and racy asides for the grown-up chaperones forced to accompany them. The fact that a children’s literary classic is being desecrated by stale urine jokes and rampant sexual overtones, it seems, makes no difference to the filmmakers so long as the energy is high, the pace is quick, and the action is bustling.

The Cat in the Hat, unlike any other children’s film in recent memory, seems determined to sexualize the supposedly kid-friendly proceedings. If the Cat isn’t raising his hat suggestively in response to a photo of the kids’ alluring mom (Kelly Preston), he’s picking up a used garden tool and, with a naughty smile to the audience, calling it a “dirty hoe.” References to genitalia (specifically, the Cat being spayed or neutered), snot, vomit, and gas abound, but what’s shocking aren’t necessarily the individual moments, but their cumulative effect. By the time evil villain Alec Baldwin is seen digging for lint in his prosthetically enhanced spare tire’s belly button – and the Cat is seen dancing with socialite (and budding amateur porn star) Paris Hilton – the entire film has become infected with the stench of cheap vulgarity.

Less surprising is the film’s steadfast belief that kids’ attention spans are about as long as Danny DeVito is tall. The screenplay (by Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer) piles rapid-fire sight gags on top of garish musical numbers on top of obnoxious parodies to produce an experience that’s both visually overloaded and substantively hollow. Director Bo Welch, a longtime production assistant, subscribes to the idea that a static frame is a worthless frame, and his camera zips this way and that in order to create a sense of perpetual motion, concocting lots of oblique angles and rapid-fire pans and zooms around the film’s candy-colored sets. The result is a film that seems to be in an enormous hurry to get somewhere, although its final destination is so predictably false and saccharine that one wonders at the end what all the commotion was about in the first place.

Mike Myers, hidden under a layer of make-up similar to Jim Carrey’s in 2001’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas, plays the titular feline, a magical creature who appears on a rainy afternoon to spice up the lives of two miserable kids stuck at home with their babysitter. Conrad (Spencer Breslin) is a troublemaker about to be sent away to military school by his mom at the urging of her dastardly boyfriend Lawrence (Baldwin), and Sally (a painfully precocious Dakota Fanning) is an uptight know-it-all without a fun bone in her body. Ordered to keep the house neat for the impending cocktail party Mom must throw for her boss (an unbearable Sean Hayes), the kids sit around the house bored out of their minds until the cat appears. Myriad jokes ensue. The house gets dirty and the kids freak out. Pesky imps named Thing #1 and Thing #2 appear, as does an anxious goldfish. The collision of fantasy and reality threaten to destroy the house. More jokes ensue.

One hates to provide such a facile synopsis, but there’s no getting around the fact that, for all the tumult, very little actually occurs in The Cat in the Hat. In place of actual plot development, the film quickly devolves into a showcase for Mike Myers’ endless mugging, with the actor turning the beloved cat into a grotesque amalgam of Austin Powers and some of his old Saturday Night Live characters (bathtub-confined Simon, Coffee Talk’s Linda Richman, hypoglycemic toddler Phillip). Myers has a grating penchant for ending every scene by guffawing to the camera and then wildly flailing his arms and legs while running off-screen, only to re-appear in the next frame dressed like Carmen Miranda or an infomercial host. His improvisatory performance is so persistently forced and abrasive that one immediately loses the ability to buy into the film’s premise in the first place. Why, one can’t help but wonder, does that Cat sound so much like Mike Myers juiced on amphetamines?

Still, Myers’ over-the-top antics aren’t nearly as distasteful as the film’s offensive and inappropriate ribald humor, which seems right at home alongside the film’s numerous subtle (and not-so-subtle) corporate advertisements. The Cat in the Hat isn’t so much a movie as an extremely long commercial for Universal’s Dr. Seuss-inspired products and tie-ins. When Myers’ isn’t shamelessly hawking Universal Studios during the film – he somehow fails to understand that shilling a studio’s ancillary corporate products with a self-conscious wink doesn’t make the shilling any more palatable – he’s embodying a character that’s been transformed into a mechanism for the studio to sell stuffed dolls and other such children’s merchandise for the holiday season. In The Cat in the Hat’s rampaging cacophony, one can hear a cash register chiming over and over again.

Directed by:
Bo Welch

Mike Myers
Alec Baldwin
Kelly Preston
Dakota Fanning
Spencer Breslin
Amy Hill
Sean Hayes
Danielle Chuchran
Taylor Rice
Brittany Oaks
Talia-Lynn Prairie
Dan Castellaneta
Victor Brandt
Daran Norris

Written by:
Dr. Seuss
Alec Berg
David Mandel
Jeff Schaffer

PG - Parental Guidance
Some material may
not be appropriate
for children.






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