say your piece

158 20 NOVEMBER 2003
A House Cat Would Be More Entertaining
By Jeremy Mathews

“Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat”
Universal Pictures
Directed by Bo Welch
Written by Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer
Produced by Brian Grazer
Starring Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Kelly Preston and Alec Baldwin
Rated PG
1 (out of four)

“This is what happens when you mix your world and our world.”

This line, spoken in reference to a disaster, is the only true piece of dialogue spoken in “Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat,” which is actually neither. As an adaptation of a classic children’s book, the film fails. As fun family entertainment, the film is a sloppy, wretched, lifeless work of greed.

If Ron Howard and Jim Carrey’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” demonstrated that the illustrations in Dr. Seuss children books can’t be pleasantly adapted into a live-action film, “The Cat in the Hat” shows just how much worse it can be. Theodor Geisel’s illustrations are inspired works of the imagination, but his bizarre, cute creatures turn into horrifying monsters when humans are converted into them with makeup.

It’s not that the makeup people didn’t work hard, it’s that the resulting work on Mike Myers in the title role would be more at home in “Nightmare on Elm Street” than this. The person walking around in the plush suit at the publicity screening looked like the illustration, while the only similarity Myers has to the illustration is that he wears a hat. Of course, the Grinch makeup was disturbing and the film was still financially successful, but this film has even more problems.

The entire production design doesn’t look at all like Dr. Seuss’ world. Unless, that is, all but one of the people in Seussland drive the same model car—and the one person who doesn’t still drives a model from the same company. The town name shouldn’t be named Anville, but Fordville.

There are fake-looking trees and houses, but not Seuss-looking trees and houses. The process seems to be more based on artifice and pastels than anything inspired or interesting to look at, like the visual candy of the animated version of “Grinch.”

This quality does match with the overall filmmaking, however. To watch Mike Myers here is to watch a talented comic actor who doesn’t have a clue what to do in a lifeless film. He attempts to compensate with a performance that plays like a highlight reel of his “Saturday Night Live” characters. His main voice comes from the Jewish woman stereotype of “Coffee Talk.” It’s not exactly what you’d expect the cat to sound like.

As funny as Myers can be with good material, he’s completely left out in a dirty litter box, unable to set a tone for the voiceless movie.

The filmmaking style does nothing to fit with the style of the performance or the screenplay. It’s basically a series of dull, overly long jokes. A cross-dressing tropical musical number, a scene in which the cat acts as a couch mechanic, an infomercial parody—every scene is just a masturbatory set piece, which would be fine if the pieces were clever or well-done.

While a movie based on such material as Geisel’s book had the potential for some creative visuals, nothing but standard, boring camerawork and editing accompany the desperate content. Who would have thought that a film in this millennium would have one of those songs when it sounds like the lyric is going to be mildly dirty, but then moves into a new verse instead? The screenwriters seem to think that this near-obscenity is so golden that they use it several times outside of the “musical” scene as well.

The story has some elements of the book, but most of the stuff is incoherent nonsense from unoriginal screenwriters. Uptight kiss-up Sally’s (Dakota Fanning) and troublemaker Conrad’s (Spencer Breslin) real-estate agent mom (Kelly Preston) is throwing a party for work. Her boss Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) is an obsessive-compulsive clean freak who fires people for shaking his hand, so the house better be spotless.

While Sally bases her life on order, Conrad favors chaos. Mom is mad because he doesn’t obey the rules, making the house dirty on her most important day. To make things worse, her shady suitor Quinn (Alec Baldwin) is aiming to marry her and ship Conrad to military school.

Hayes, Baldwin and Preston all seem to be acting in a different film. Hayes shouts loudly in a very broad portrayal, while Preston’s mom seems to come from a family drama.

Replacing the absent baby sitter with a narcoleptic (Amy Hill), Mom heads back to work before the party, leaving the kids almost unsupervised, although Quinn (who’s supposed to be at a business meeting but is really unemployed) is spying on them.

So the cat shows up and teaches the kids “how to have fun.” Their computer-animated prude of a goldfish (Hayes again) is so obviously a cartoon that it clearly exists outside of the film’s environment, along with all the other digital elements. The entire place is artificial, so the fish should either fit in with the live-action version of the world or the whole film should be computer-animated (which might have worked better).

Since the characterizations are so poor that they can’t portray the kids changing in any way other than learning trite nonsense, the cat has a meter to measure their personalities until they’re “just right.” I don’t think Geisel would have approved of the idea of a kid being “just right,” but then again, he probably wouldn’t have recognized his world in this film.

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