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THE CAT IN THE HAT (PG) (2003)

Universal

Official Site

Director: Bo Welch

Producer: Brian Grazer

Written by: Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer; based on the book by Dr. Seuss

Cast: Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Sean Hayes

Rating: out of 5

For me, it all started with John Goodman playing Fred Flintstone. Others might place the defining moment a few years earlier, say when Danny DeVito brought the Penguin to life in Batman Returns. But no matter when it began, the trend is clearly here—Hollywood can’t resist filming the unfilmable, bringing long-familiar animated characters to life through expensive special effects and “perfect casting.” Recent films have seen this trend bequeath its cinematic largesse to the movie-going public through, among others, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, a computer-generated Scooby-Doo, and a stolen Whoville Christmas courtesy of Jim Carrey.

The newest addition to this uneven list is The Cat In The Hat, which features Mike Myers as the titular feline who unexpectedly shows up at the house of two children (Fanning and Breslin) whose mother is away. No one who goes to the movies should be surprised any more that the movie looks just like Dr. Seuss’s morality play. The bright colors and weird shapes of the town and the house are right there on the screen, as is the talking fish (voiced by Hayes), the two Things, and the like. But the film nonetheless feels flat, as though all of its hyperactive visual activity is an intentional diversion from the fact that nothing very interesting is happening on screen.

It is tempting to lay this lack of pizzazz at Myers’s doorstep; he is in almost every scene, and is seldom all that funny in this film. But such an accusation would not be fair. Though it would be too much to say the Wayne’s World star and creator is having fun with this movie, he is certainly busting his ass. His Cat, who sounds like nothing so much as the Tin Man from The Wizard Of Oz, does exactly what the Cat in the Hat is supposed to do, namely wreck the house with wild abandon. But fans of the Austin Powers series, who know what it looks like to see Myers enjoying himself, will not find the actor’s best work here.

The ones who should be blamed for this Thanksgiving turkey are screenwriters Berg, Mandel and Schaffer. Dr. Seuss’s original goal was to help children learn to read by writing an interesting story using only 220 separate words. (Green Eggs And Ham has only 50.) While a movie filmed along those lines would be admittedly tedious, no new principle seems to have arisen to take its place. The film extends the simple story to include a wholly incongruous subplot about a gold-digging neighbor (Baldwin) who wants to marry the mother (Preston) and send the son off to military school. Additionally, it tries to take advantage of Myers’ extensive talent for characterization by adding a bunch of oddball motifs for the Cat to inhabit. But the jokes aren’t funny and the thin story, stretched to its limits, comes across as just dull. Myers, Baldwin, and even the kids are giving their all here, and someone spent a lot of time and money on set design, props, and makeup. Nonetheless, it is hard not to wish that some of the effort that made the movie look just like Dr. Seuss’s world had instead gone into recovering that author’s sense of fun.

—Mike O’Connor

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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