Cat in the toilet

The Cat in the Hat

Rated 1.0 I overheard a child telling her parents that The Cat in the Hat “…might have been better.” It was a kind assessment made by a member of the film’s target audience who, though young in years, had obviously keyed in to the film’s cynicism toward its viewers. Hollywood had yet again failed to bring a classic, heart-felt Dr. Seuss story to the screen.

The Cat in the Hat‘s producer, Brian Grazer, also produced the last catastrophe from Seussville, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. That film featured comic Jim Carrey, who utilized his distinct physical brand of comedy to bring the character of The Grinch to a live-action setting. The film proved dark, creepy and a distant second to the decades-old animated television special narrated by Boris Karloff. The Grinch swept up at the box-office, however, and Grazer and company, believing they had found the hit formula, apparently chose to let The Cat in the Hat’s success hinge upon Mike Myers’ comic capacity.

The plot unfolds on a rainy day while Mom (Kelly Preston) is at work. Her children Sally (an excellent Dakota Fanning) and Conrad (Spencer Breslin) become bored until the Cat in the Hat (Myers) foists himself upon them. The result is nothing more substantive than Myers performing discarded SNL skits as a nasty home invader in a smelly cat suit.

Predictably wacky hi-jinks follow, including an overwrought performance by Alec Baldwin as sleazy neighbor Lawrence Quinn clamoring for Mom’s hand in marriage.

Director Bo Welch, previously a production designer for Men in Black II and Wild Wild West, could have used Tim Burton’s deft hand with fantasy in interpreting this adaptation. It may be that Dr. Seuss’ works may never translate well to live-action film, whether it be Burton or Spielberg as its auteur.

One of the chief problems with the film is that the book’s length does not warrant a 90-minute feature film. Leave it to screenwriters Alec Berg, David Mendell and Jeff Schaffer, experienced writers of television’s Seinfeld, SNL and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, to complement Seuss’ whimsical wordplay with a barrage of bathroom humor, needless sexual innuendo and surprising cruelty. This is definitely not a children’s film when Baldwin delivers dialogue to Preston’s cleavage and exhorts "I can’t believe you whizzed on my taco!" to the family’s recently retrieved AWOL pooch. Couldn’t he have at least delivered the lines in rhymed verse?