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Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat
from Film Forum, 11/26/03

Oops, they've done it again. Moviemakers have taken another beloved Dr. Seuss children's book and turned it into a "cat-astrophe." Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, as directed by first-timer Bo Welch, is littered with lowbrow humor and things that are not appropriate for younger viewers … or for discerning adults, for that matter.

Nevertheless, families hurried happily to this big screen hairball, demonstrating disinterest in critical thinking about the film, and rewarding the film studio with an estimated $40.1 million, almost guaranteeing that more misguided Seuss adaptations will be made.

When Jim Carrey played the Grinch in director Ron Howard's Dr. Seuss movie, film critics were stunned to see the simple redemption story peppered with sexual references and behavior that was hardly admirable. There's nothing necessarily wrong with misbehavior in a movie, so long as it is portrayed as misbehavior in the context of meaningful storytelling. What troubled critics about Grinch was that Whoville, supposedly an innocent family-oriented town, was "updated" and turned into a place where parents went to "key parties" and where a post-redemption Grinch still went out of his way to belittle and mock his nemesis. It is likely that Theodore Geisel would have been displeased with Carrey's Grinch had he lived to see the movie. And critics are almost certain he would take Mike Meyers' version of the hat-clad Cat straight to the pound.

Of all the reviews I've scanned, my favorite was penned by Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films), perhaps the first of several responses offered by critics in verse. Here's a snippet:

"The Cat in the Hat starts earning a smile
With studio logos in Dr. Seuss style.
In fact, the whole film has the right kind of look;
Trees, houses, and clouds seem right from the book.

"That's better than that Ronnie Howard could do
With his gloomy old Who-ville and misshapen Whos.
But production design alone isn't enough,
And The Cat in the Hat's nothing like up to snuff."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "So much has been added to the story, presumably to stretch it out to fill its 80 minute running time, that Dr. Seuss's simple and imaginative tale kind of gets lost in the shuffle. Mike Myers … delivers to us an odd characterization that has little to do with the book. It is missing the primarily feature of the Cat's personality … A sense of fun."

"The Cat in the Hat is a good-looking film," says Bob Smithouser (Plugged In). "Unfortunately, that's as interesting as it gets. Barely veiled profanities and subtle humor involving sex, porn, urination and vomiting will unnerve parents wondering what rule Myers will break next in his tireless pursuit of 'fun.'"

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Welch seems to totally forget why people love Dr. Seuss in the first place—his magical wordplay." He argues it would be better if audiences would just read the book. "In fact, a verse found on Page Two reads like a Seussian review of this movie: So all we could do was to sit, sit, sit, sit. / And we did not like it, not one little bit."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) writes, "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."

Rosemarie Ute Hoffman (Christian Spotlight) exhorts parents, "Stay at home with the book and your kid. See to it that your parental teaching is not undermined."

Movieguide's critic makes similar complaints about the film. But he is also dismayed to see that "the house is a disastrous mess. I remember feeling nervous about the mess upon mess upon mess in the children's book, and the director skillfully but irritatingly brings that same feeling into the movie. Get it cleaned up, and get that Cat out of there!" This casts Movieguide's mission to "clean up Hollywood" in a whole new light.

Meanwhile, in the nation's newspapers and magazines, the most widely read critics seemed to be competing for the most whimsical put-down. A.O. Scott (New York Times) says, "Welch has put together a vulgar, uninspired lump of poisoned eye candy that Universal has the temerity to call Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat. There is scarcely a moment of genuine laughter in the [movie.] Neutering, to prevent this beast from spawning sequels, is perhaps the most humane solution. Or maybe it is best to follow the advice of that wise fish: 'Make that cat go away! Tell that cat in the hat you do not want to play.'" You can scan the rest of the hissing and clawing mainstream reviews here.

from Film Forum, 12/04/03

Religious press critics continue to complain about the gaudy, misguided new "family film" version of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat. This week, Mike Parnell (Ethics Daily) says, "Visually it is gorgeous. The colors and the set design are fantastic. They are eye candy for the screen. But, like eating a candy bar for lunch—which seems like a good idea at the start and tastes good going down—in the end you feel sick and wished you had not eaten it. After viewing The Cat in the Hat, I had that sick feeling and wished I had not watched it. Put bluntly, the movie does not work."