"Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" – Movie Review
- Friday, November 21, 2003
Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Rating: PG (for mild crude humor and some double entendres)
Release Date: November 21, 2003
Actors: Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Amy Hill, Sean Hayes
Director: Bo Welch
Special Notes: Mike Myers said this book is his favorite because his actress/mother used to read the story to him with a Liverpool accent.
Plot: Conrad (Breslin) and Sally (Fanning) live with their single mom, Joan (Preston), in a neat home next door to a nosey neighbor (Baldwin). On a Saturday when Joan had planned to host a party, her demanding boss (Hayes) asks her to come in to work, so Joan decides to leave the children with a babysitter (Hill). Bossy Sally and rule-breaking Conrad are so bored that the only thing they can do is stare out the window. That is, until a special cat in a very tall hat arrives and teaches the kids that “it’s good to have fun … but you have to know how!”
Good: If ever there was a children’s book that you'd think would be an automatic success as a movie, it would have to be “The Cat in the Hat." Originally published in 1957, this children’s primer, written by Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), has been a classic favorite of children and adults for years. I not only read this book (and many others he wrote) to my children, but I spent hours reading it to my little sisters as well. Who can forget “Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in 2000 and how it became the number one box office film that year? So, as a fan of "The Cat," I was eagerly anticipating the combination of the timeless story and a very funny Myers. Basically, the story is about how children should have fun and this simplistic message rings even truer in a day and age when computers, cable TV and video games consume our children’s imagination and time. The production value of the film is incredible with special effects that satisfy the imaginative universe of the book (especially when they fall into the world of the box). Aside from the adorable talking fish that is voiced by the hilarious Sean Hayes (who has perfected a comedic flair for talking fast), the kids are perfectly cast and are incredibly good. I’ve loved Breslin since I saw him in “The Kid,” and Fanning made a powerful impression with her “I Am Sam” performance. So these two were the redeeming additions to the story. Thing One and Thing Two are cute – and annoying – as they bounce all over the room destroying everything, and Preston barely gets a chance to play the mom. But she does a good job with what screen time she does have. I wish I could say that Myers fulfilled my fantasy as The Cat. Incredible costumes and funny one-liners aside, it was his jokes and innuendoes that changed the personality of The Cat from “kiddie friendly” to “adult friendly” that really bothered me. That and the fact that new characters are introduced who aren’t even in the book: the bizarre looking babysitter who is always sleeping and can’t seem to wake up to watch the children and the next door neighbor (Baldwin). He tells Conrad that he doesn't like him and wants to send him to military school so that he's out of the picture and he (the neighbor) can marry the mom. This brought a weird element to the story that I can only describe as well … creepy.
Bad: And that’s where I have a problem with this movie. It’s tricky to be able to take a beloved children's story and make it into a movie that will attract the children, but keep the adults entertained and satisfied as well. Although I was expecting the story to have some scenes of chaos and fun, what I wasn’t expecting was some of the crude and “adult” elements. The essence of the story is about the kids getting into mischief and learning to have fun while their mom is away, so a few scenes like Conrad creating an “indoors stairs luge" and destroying the house or the Things riding on top of the sleeping babysitter down the steps with her head bouncing on each step follow in that vein. The heightened level of violence and bad behavior in this movie come with scenes that were never in the book, but are played here for laughs: The Cat pretends to be a piñata at a child’s birthday party until a boy smashes him in the crotch area with a large wooden bat and The Cat reacts in pain, The Cat does an infomercial on TV and accidentally cuts off the end of his own tail with a large cleaver (no blood), plus lots of other scenes using physical comedy. There’s no profanity, but there is some crude humor that is at times cleverly disguised with innuendoes so parents and older kids will “get it,” but younger ones probably won’t and at other times, it’s just blatant. The Cat looks at a hoe with dirt on it and says, "You dirty hoe" (it’s a play on "ho" for "whore"), the fish utters “Oh my cod" which sounds like you-know-what, and there are other comments like “your demonic children” and an incomplete "what the ... ", "the mother of all messes" and "not so fast you little maggots." Lines like that just don’t create that “warm and fuzzy” Dr. Seuss feeling that I remember being in the book. The Cat makes a comment about the fish swimming in his own pee, the dog urinates in the car, there’s a “son of a __" (bleeped out) and the word “ass” is heard. There’s a clever play on words where the Cat mentions an acronym for his car and implies that the word spells the “s” word. Then there’s Myers' “Cat impersonations”: Carmen Miranda with plastic shapes covering his breasts, an auto mechanic with a plastic shaped bottom that makes it look like it’s the cats rear end hanging out of his cat suit, an infomercial chef that cuts off his tail and a few others that take the “teacher” out of the cat and replace it with Myers the comedian doing his thing in a cat suit. There are a couple of references to smoking and drinking. In one scene, The Cat comments on not having a drink but is later seen holding a tropical drink. The disgusting boyfriend is carrying a six-pack of beer through the kids' living room while hurling verbal insults at them. That may not be a shocking scene in any other movie, but in a PG kids' story? What were the writers and director thinking?
Bottom Line: Although there are some clever and funny scenes in this movie and it is visually a wonder for kids to behold, there is still something “dark” that takes all of the fun out of it. It just doesn’t have the book's charm or “feel good” quality. Part of the problem is that it’s too much Mike Myers being Mike Myers instead of creating a wise and “kid friendly” personality for The Cat. The other part is the storyline that's been added to make the book into a movie. You can clearly tell where Dr. Seuss ends and the scriptwriters begin. Will kids enjoy this movie? I’m sure many will, especially if they are conditioned to watching movies or television with the elements I’ve mentioned above and don’t think there’s anything wrong with that kind of humor. Adults and parents who are fans of the book may be disappointed. I took my teenage son, who loved the book as a child and who enjoys Myers' style of comedy, and he didn’t think it was funny or entertaining. Sure, there are lessons and positive points made about telling the truth, learning to have fun and staying out of mischief, but it’s hard to remember those lessons or walk away with those truths when you’re exhausted from the frenetic pace the movie maintains until the end. I enjoyed “The Grinch” because it is a different kind of story, and Jim Carey was able to take liberties with that kind of character. “The Cat” has a different standard to live up to because his character takes on the role of teacher to get the kids to realize how they need to make changes in their lives. Although Myers completes the task and lessons are learned, it’s the process and what he teaches them along the way that I’m not so sure would earn Dr. Seuss' approval.
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