Based on the children’s book written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss (real name: Theodore Geisel), this is the story of young Conrad (Spencer Breslin), who always does the opposite of what he is told, and his little sister Sally (Dakota Fanning), a real stickler for the rules. With a stressful job at Humberfloob’s real estate, single mom Joan (Kelly Preston) leaves her kids with an elderly babysitter, warning they should be on their best behaviour.
If the kids mess up, they’ll provide Joan’s sleazy boyfriend Lawrence Quinn (Alec Baldwin) with an excuse to pack them off to military school, something their neurotic pet fish (Will & Grace star Sean Hayes) wants to help them avoid. However, once their babysitter snoozes off, there is a knock at the door. In leaps the Cat in the Hat (Mike Myers) who leads Sally and Conrad on a series of zany escapades, causing chaos and calamity, but imparting a few life lessons along the way… or at least, that’s what happened in Dr. Seuss’ original story. It sure as hell doesn’t in this movie.
It’s a remarkable achievement to make a movie that offends pretty much everyone who sees it, be they critics, the target audience or casual viewers. Intended as campy, colourful family fun, The Cat in the Hat stomps to death a beloved children’s classic and lays a candy-coloured turd on its grave as an encore. Chief culprit is Mike Myers (in a role actually intended for Tim Allen), whose adult-baiting, semi-improvisatory grandstanding barfs up lame sexual innuendos and scatological humour in place of the wit and wisdom of Seuss. He also looks downright creepy in a costume less suggestive of a magical cat than a feline obsessed serial killer.
There is nothing wrong with lacing a kids’ film with adult-friendly humour, but it requires a delicate touch. When Robin Williams voiced a big, blue genie in Aladdin (1992), who knew he would open up such a can of worms? A host of lesser talents transformed children’s movies into CG augmented Saturday Night Live sketches, sacrificing story, integrity and insight for snide, cynical gag-fests. If the global success of Pixar films proves anything, it’s that grownups are more taken with clever, sophisticated storytelling than cheap knob gags or pop culture in-jokes. Then again, with the increasingly sour and misogynistic Shrek series racking up box-office records, perhaps parents don’t really care what their kids watch so long as it keeps them quiet for ninety minutes.
Dr. Seuss’ creation first reached the screen in a 1971 animated special, followed by several more televised outings over the years, most notably The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (1982) that pit him against another Seuss icon. In his directorial debut, production designer Bo Welch - whose talents are better showcased in modern classics Batman Returns (1992) and A Little Princess (1995) - creates a suitably Seussian world with pretzel-shaped architecture and eye-popping colours. He is well served by perfectly pitched performances from his juvenile leads, which leaves it all the more unfortunate that Myers steamrollers over them with his relentless mugging. The less said about Paris Hilton’s cameo the better. So calamitous a movie was this, that Dr. Seuss’ widow (who holds the rights to his work) declared there would be no further live-action adaptations of her husbands books. Nice going, Mike.