Cat in the Hat, The (United States, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

There is an almost overpowering desire to write this review in the style of Dr. Seuss, but I will resist it - primarily because the end product is more Mike Myers and overblown production design than it is the clever text of one of the most beloved of all children's books. Because The Cat in the Hat is only 70-something pages long (with very LARGE print), it stands to reason that, to make it into a movie, a lot has to be added, and it's mostly in the padding that the movie fails to stand up. As a 30-minute short, this might have been a lot of fun. But as an 82-mintue feature, it seems painfully dragged out. Younger children probably won't mind, but parents will be keenly aware that longer isn't necessarily better.

The Cat in the Hat exists because of the success of the recent How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The earlier production, directed by Ron Howard (who has a slightly more impressive resume than Bo Welch, a production designer making his directorial debut), is noticeably better for a couple of reasons. The story is stronger (The Cat in the Hat, to be frank, doesn't have much in the way of a story), and the Christmas motif allows it to be tied to a holiday. The Cat in the Hat is being released around Thanksgiving, but it takes place during the summer. Then there are the obvious similarities. Both movies feature impressive, exaggerated production design. Both movies have a big-name comedian dressed up as a fictional creature. And both movies suffer greatly when the story relies on the innovations of the screenwriters instead of Dr. Seuss' original material.

The movie takes place in the fictionalized town of Anville, where all of the houses are pink, the lawns are neatly groomed, and the shrubs look (intentionally) plastic. Mom (Kelly Preston) is on her way out for the afternoon, leaving her two children, control freak Sally (Dakota Fanning) and rules-breaker Conrad (Spencer Breslin), in the care of a babysitter. No sooner is she out the door than the babysitter falls asleep and the fun begins with the unexpected arrival of the Cat in the Hat (Mike Myers), a six-foot tall feline with a penchant for mischief. It doesn't take long for him (with help from Thing One, Thing Two, Sally, and Conrad) to make a mess of the house before turning his attention to the outside world. Meanwhile, Mom's seedy boyfriend Quinn (Alec Baldwin) watches all of this with an eye to turning circumstances to his own advantage.

There are two, and only two, noteworthy things about The Cat in the Hat. It's visually impressive, and Mike Myers has a field day. Other than that, the movie is entirely forgettable. Myers is like a live-action analog of Robin Williams' animated genie in Aladdin. He's always doing something odd, often employing a voice imitation and/or a costume change. Myers is fun for a short period, but, after a while, even his high-energy approach starts to wear thin. For the most part, however, he manages not to be upstaged by the garish set design, which places rotary phones alongside palm pilots, and lets colors run riot. The Cat in the Hat looks like a children's book come to life, which is, of course, the intention.

Myers sprinkles in some "mature" humor to provide a few laughs for the older folk in the audience, but it barely keeps the tedium at bay. For those who have crossed over the puberty line, the amusement value of The Cat in the Hat can be viewed on a sliding scale. It's moderately engaging for the first half-hour, somewhat trying during the second half hour, and virtually unbearable over the final twenty minutes. It's a marginally recommendable film for kids, but not necessarily for parents. And, since this is a surprisingly family friendly time at the box office, why not see something that entertains equally across the age spectrum rather than a high profile movie with a narrow range of appeal?

Cat in the Hat, The (United States, 2003)

Run Time: 1:22
U.S. Release Date: 2003-11-21
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1