Cat in the Hat, The

With Mom (Kelly Preston) away at work, planning for a big company party that evening, her children, disobedient Conrad (Spencer Breslin, “Santa Clause 2”) and high-strung Sally (Dakota Fanning, “I Am Sam”), are stuck home under the sleepy yet watchful eye of their babysitter (Amy Hill). With the edict “Don’t mess up the house” burned into their brains, the children are painfully bored until an unlikely visitor comes to their rescue. Enter The Cat in the Hat (Mike Myers). Armed with a cap full of mischief, along with Thing 1 and Thing 2, the Cat takes Sally and Conrad on a journey of messy pranks and merriment for the day. Along the way, they try to thwart evil neighbor Quinn (Alec Baldwin), who plans to steal Mom’s heart and send the kids away to military school.

The thing about these Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) translations from page to screen is that the filmmakers always overcompensate for what Seuss purposefully left out of his stories. Ron Howard’s abysmal 2000 feature, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” was front-loaded with special effects and holiday white noise, and was in constant need of attention. It went directly against what the good Doctor was after: whimsy, imagination, and poetry. Considering his widow authorizes these Seuss pictures, one has to wonder just what kind of Sneetches she’s been hanging out with to OK such smears on her husband‘s good name.

“The Cat in the Hat” is a noticeable improvement on the live action Seuss formula. Directed by former production designer Bo Welch (“Beetlejuice,“ ”Edward Scissorhands“), “Cat” is a brighter, only slightly less obnoxious production that benefits immensely by keeping its action confined to two major locations. It does share with “Grinch” the overridingly garish look of a studio dumping money into something that would’ve been just as successful had the minimalist route been chosen. But compared to the overstuffed “Grinch,” “Cat” is practically “My Dinner With Andre.” Welch captures what is now an expected Seussian landscape of intense colors and slightly askew vistas, only really pouring on the special effects in the picture’s last act, when the Cat turns the house into a wonderland of purple goo and water slides (as well as a slick plug for Universal Studios theme parks). “Cat” is technically proficient enough, and a lot more pleasant to look at than “Grinch,” but it’s tough to get past the fact that these Seuss films are poorly conceived and way too overproduced. “Cat” may not be the crime against nature it could have been, but that doesn’t excuse such a bloated production trampling on the elegant wonderment of the Seuss world.

And when “Cat” tramples, it positively steam rolls. Only a panicking studio and production team would cram a Seuss adaptation with this many careless and entirely unnecessary bodily function gags, which are all (I mean all) represented here – some, like belching and vomiting, are recalled more than once. Dr. Seuss didn’t feel the need to include them, why do the filmmakers feel the need to keeping going back to this tired well of easy gagsr

The biggest surprise of “Grinch” was that Ron Howard managed to make Jim Carrey exceptionally unfunny. I never thought that could happen. Given the same make-up scheme and tone of production, Mike Myers (whose appearance in “Cat” is due to a contract dispute resolution) has a little more success trying to squeeze out laughs from under the prison of his fur bodysuit. Myers, channeling the voice of Linda Richman and the sugar-binge mannerisms of a carnival barker, is often uproarious in the title role, jumping from subversive pop culture ribbing (including infomercials and “Cat in the Hat” raves, with a timely cameo by Paris Hilton), to typical Myersesque reaction shots, and back to children’s film entertainer in a matter of moments. Myers has fun tossing the film’s PG rating around, and his Seussian energy isn’t at the snapping point Carrey’s was in “Grinch.” Along with the rest of the film, Myers is swallowed up in the purpled-gooed sound and fury, but the very idea that the actor could compete with the extreme level of style and budget the rest of the film is playing at, and still get a laughr That’s an amazing feat.

I’m not suggesting that “Cat in the Hat” isn’t a direct slap in the face of Dr. Seuss, and every child and parent across the planet earth that has picked up one of his books. This truly is a misguided adaptation. Yet compared to the “Grinch, “Cat” is more of a success story, and just might get some belly laughs in the process.

Rating: C+
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