Unless you were born under a rock in Whoville, you’re no doubt familiar with the story of Dr. Seuss’s seemingly shitfaced cat and how he helped a brother and sister wreck their mother’s house on a not-so-sunny day. Enter Universal’s The Cat in the Hat, a disastrously misconceived confection that should easily neuter a few childhood memories. Because of Seuss’s zany rhymes and his equally creepy-crawly illustrations, the author’s stories have been understandably put through all sorts of psychoanalytic wringers by older fans who refuse to enjoy Seuss at face value. Is Cat in the Hat the simple story of two kids making the mother of all messes or is it a subversive chronicle of incestuous tots forced to keep mum by a crazed child abuser? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but this is not a zone the filmmakers are interested in mapping out. Some will consider the film a triumph of production design, but despite its loud colors, the film’s aesthetic isn’t actually in service of the story’s themes of responsibility and fun. First-time director Bo Welch, a three-time Oscar nominee who designed the gothic sets for Edward Sissorhands, clearly didn’t learn a thing while working with Tim Burton, a director who would have certainly demanded that his camera and use of montage ape the rhythmic quality of Seuss’s rhymes. You can almost picture Universal suits greenlighting this production on the condition that it look like cotton candy and move like a freight train. Dakota Fanning plays the control freak (how’s that for casting against type?), Spencer Breslin the rule-breaker, and Mike Myers is simply asked to recycle his funniest performances, from SNL’s Linda Richman to Austin Powers, while the kids figure things out for themselves amid the rubble. For some 80 minutes, he dutifully coughs, wheezes and flames out for the camera (he even gets to dance with sex fiend Paris Hilton at an underground rave). That’s not to say the film is humorless (at the rate with which the jokes fly out at the audience, something was bound to stick), but save for its opening credits, Cat in the Hat isn’t so much an adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book than it is an improv special for Mr. Myers. It could have been worse (Ron Howard behind the camera, Robin Williams inside the cat suit) but Myers’s shtick gets old quick. The film is self-conscious when it needs to be postmodern-less, limp-wristed when it needs to be sinister, shrill when it needs to be magical. Doctors have been known to advise women to read Seuss to their stomachs during pregnancies. But if Seuss’s ridiculous rhymes can smooth out a few jumpy trimesters, Cat in the Hat the movie is nothing more than a miscarriage.
- Bo Welch
- Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
- Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Amy Hill, Sean Hayes, Danielle Ryan Chuchran, Brittany Oakes
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