Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat
Directed by Bo Welch. Starring Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Amy Hill, Sean Hayes. (2003, PG, 82 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 21, 2003
Like you and like me, I once read this book, and this book was a blast, and this book had a hook, a miraculous hook of the kind kids most dig – this book was quite cool, and it soon became big. How big you ask? Just as big as the sky, which was good news for preschoolers and hipsters and I. It proved to all that kid lit’s not always dull or as staid or as gray as a battleship’s hull. Instead, it was fun and chaotic and wild, just the sort of tall tale to amuse a young child. Moms liked it, too, and babysitters galore, and even the teens thought it rather hardcore. Dr. Seuss (or Ted Geisel, his real-life name) penned a tale of a cat with no fear and no shame, and two kids and a fish and Thing One and Thing Two, and what happens when anarchy flies right down the flue. In a word, it was tops, and remains so today, but this film is just bad, though it pains me to say. The problem is thus: It’s not true to the book, and those folks at DreamWorks and Universal are now nothing but schnooks. They’ve taken a classic (the classic, I think) and they’ve battered it senseless and, boy, does it stink. It’s so bad it’s amazing it’s being released, and box office-goers might soon end up fleeced. And annoyed and bewildered, perhaps even creeped-out by this cacophonous mess which is awful throughout. It’s directed by Welch who did sets for Tim Burton, but he lacks Burton’s wit and instead feels uncertain of how to evoke Seuss’ madcap panache – in faux fun and bad scripting it’s all but awash. The young actors Fanning and Breslin are fine, and they’re cute to a fault and they have a good time with the cat (played by Myers, late of Saturday Night), but the screenplay they have is in need of rewrite. It’s by Alec Berg, of Seinfeld and Late Night, and suffers from overkill with no subtlety in sight. It’s sporadically funny but only just so, and its sugar-high chaos gives you little but woe. It’s too loud, it’s too mad, it’s like bad LSD, and it’s stuffed to the gills with this Ritalin glee, an autumn confection that grates on the nerves and depleted at once this reviewer’s reserve. And what of Mike Myers as that big feral cat? He’s Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde in top hat, an odd combination of comical tics and improvised gags that too often don’t stick. And then there’s the Baldwin who wanders throughout, looking manic and freakish and riddled with doubt. His role is a new one – it’s not in the Seuss – and it smacks of the extraneous, the bad, the obtuse. Near the end, Paris Hilton puts in an appearance, at a rave, in a club, which just adds incoherence, to a film adaptation with big-buck effects, but no soul to speak of, which never connects. So go read the book, if you haven’t already, or read it again (and again) with the teddy, in bed, to the kids, late at night, or alone – this train wreck is Universal and DreamWorks’, but Seuss is your own.