Cat in the Hat
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The Cat in the Hat

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For many of us one of the first books that we where able to read on our own was one penned by the late Dr. Seuss. The novel rhyming scheme and catchy cadence can capture young and old alike. Unfortunately, as with so much of the wonderment of youth, to attempt to regain those feelings results in disappointment. The appeal of the Cat in the Hat as presented by Dr. Seuss has always rested in the imagination. With the latest presentation of a Seuss work on film we see once again that no amount of technological advancement can replace the world we can build in our minds. Sure the special effects here are spectacular but they are not enough to hold together a feature length film. Mike Myers takes on the role of the unstoppable Cat. When two children, Sally (Dakota Fanning) and her brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) are left by their mother (Kelly Preston) in the inept care of the babysitter Mrs. Kwan (Amy Hill) we know from the start that havoc will ensue. For one thing, Mom works for an ultra germophobic Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and her job hinges on the house being spotless. This is not the right time for a visit from a cat that is completely without a smidge of decorum. Add in to this mix a neighbor (Alec Baldwin) secretly in love with Mom and there are too many crossing plot lines for a flick that should be aimed at young children.

The film is a non stop ride of action but comes across with the feeling that it is all pointless. For one thing the main character, the Cat is not at all likeable. He is determined to disrupt everything and anything. All the CGI and prosthetics available can not make up for an unsympathetic character placed in a thin excuse for a plot. What is lost here is the innocence of the original work, the way Dr. Seuss could so perfectly balance his childlike world view and the intricate flow of his words. Adding to the loss of innocence here is the not too veiled sexual innuendo, for example when the Cat is holding some tennis balls the line "I love the smell of fresh balls". Not only is this inappropriate in a film geared towards kids but the Apocalypse Now reference would be completely over their heads. One thing that came to mind is the Cat here is almost the archetype trouble maker from mythology, a Loki or Akien Drum like figure, again out of place in this setting. The fast pace may be acceptable to the younger crowd but for most adults you will come away with a good size headache.

The cast that was assembled here is eminently talented, one and all. The bad news is they are so confined by the script and special effects that little of this wonderful talent is given a chance to shin through. Myers is a comic genius, a man that infuses intelligences into what seems to be complete idiotic chaos. Here his naturally rubber features are hidden under a ton a actual rubber. The voice of the Cat is a mélange of Charles Nelson Reily and the popular Saturday Night Live Character Linda from Coffee Talk (actually based on his mother-in-law). Myers phones in the performance, not really committed to doing what he is capable of doing. Alec Baldwin, an actor that could command the screen in mere minutes as he did in Glengarry Glenn Ross, sleepwalks through this travesty. The same goes for Ms Preston, an accomplished actress that has done so much better. Even the children in this film are wasted. Breslin was excellent in the many children’s films he has appeared in. Dakota Fanning is one of the biggest wastes of talent in this cast. For her tender years she has the control and range that exceeds most adults. To see what she can do get the mini series Taken or view her comic side with Uptown Girls.

It has long been said that everyone wants to direct. It seems that now everybody gets a chance. Director Bo Welch has had a great career in art and production design. He has worked on everything from the Men in Black films to Beetlejuice and the Lost Boys. Here he is the prime example of what happens when style is permitted to overwhelm substance. The outlandish sets are great to look at but can’t make up for an actual plot. Even with a children’s flick there should be a story their young minds can hold on to. Welch was given a fairly large budget and like a kid in a toy store set out to get everything he always dreamed of doing as a set designer. The over large props, the gaudy home and the Cat makeup all add to the style but like a modern music video there is not enough to justify a whole film. The producer Brian Grazer, long time partner with Ron Howard, seems to have felt that what he did for the Grinch could be done again, it was, unfortunately.

On the up side here the disc is well mastered. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is brilliant, creating a spectacular color palette and accurately reflecting the plethora of garish colors used here. The Dolby 5.1 audio booms out and fills your room. All the speakers get a workout here although the rear speakers do fall a little flat now and again. There are extras galore provided on the disc. Included are 16 deleted scenes that are fairly obvious why they were left out. Some of the twenty provided bloopers where funny since many showed Myers doing what he does best, improvisation. The making of featurettes seems to go on and on displaying how much went into the design and execution of the sets and makeup. One such feature was titled creating the biggest mess ever; this was not a reference to the actual film though. While there is a modicum of fun here you would be better off getting the DVD of the venerable animate Cat in the Hat. Better yet, get the book and read it to your children. You both will get a lot more out of the experience.

Posted 4/2/04

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