Movie Review: The Cat in the Hat
FILM REVIEW: DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT
By Mark Caro
Chicago Tribune Movie Writer
We can debate the merits of adapting beloved children's books into live-action films, but can we agree on one point? You shouldn't have to add burps, farts and dog pee to Dr. Seuss.
Including the author's name in the movie title "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" takes a lot of chutzpah. Dr. Seuss was a wondrous, groundbreaking storyteller thanks to his ingenious use of simple words, his limitless creativity, his bright visual style and the slyness with which he'd make his moral (and sometimes political) points.
His gift for tickling kids' and parents' imaginations had nothing to do with double entendres and winking references to the real world. His own world was delightful enough. So, although a literal movie adaptation of Seuss' 1957 classic "The Cat in the Hat" might have run 20 minutes, is it too much to ask that the filmed material preserve the author's sensibility?
The padded story has the mom (Kelly Preston) working in a green-on-green real estate office for a beyond-fussy, germ-phobic boss named Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes), and -oh, do you really care about the mom and her stupid boss? And do you care that she's dating a jerk played by jerk specialist Alec Baldwin, and that the jerk doesn't like her son Conrad (Spencer Breslin) and wants to send him to military school?
She's hosting some big work party that evening, so the house has to be immaculate. Dr. Seuss felt no need to include such motivation, rightly assuming that kids wouldn't want their mother coming home to a trashed house, party or no party. Dr. Seuss also didn't bother giving a babysitter to the young brother and sister (Dakota Fanning acting uptight again as Sally). The story, after all, was about how the children behave when they're on their own.
But the filmmakers - who include producer Brian Grazer (who also oversaw the shrill, lucrative "The Grinch"), production designer turned director Bo Welch and three writers - apparently feared the mom might seem a lax parent. Too bad their political correctness didn't extend to the baby-sitter.
She's a chunky Asian woman named Mrs. Kwan (Amy Hill), who has Coke-bottle glasses and a Charlie Chan accent - she's like a drag version of Mickey Rooney's woeful "Breakfast at Tiffany's" Asian stereotype. She's also narcoleptic, which allows the filmmakers to have her hung in a coat closet or ridden like a raft without waking up.
The movie includes little of Seuss' language and even less of his wit. The opening minutes at least allow you to enjoy the sunny production design and Emmanuel Lubezki's ("A Little Princess," "Sleepy Hollow") brilliant camerawork - "Cat" isn't nearly as ugly as "Grinch." But then comes Mike Myers' major irritant of an oversized, mischief-making feline.
Myers plays him like the Cowardly Lion crossed with his Queens "Coffee Talk" host Linda Richman doing a sub-Robin Williams manic free-associative act. The role feeds into Myers' annoying look-at-me tendencies, and the material - whether written by committee or ad-libbed - is cynically (as opposed to playfully) naughty.
Let's see: The Cat complains of being lactose intolerant and soon offers a gastronomical demonstration. He scoffs at the charmless, computer-generated goldfish by saying, "He drinks where he pees." He imitates a car mechanic by acting stupid, donning plastic butt cheeks and passing gas. He calls a garden utensil a "dirty ho."
When the kids and Cat are on a roller coaster-like ride, Conrad exclaims, "It's like a ride in an amusement park!" Looking into the camera, the Cat responds, "You mean like at Universal Studios? Ka-ching!"
Who's supposed to laugh at this joke? Little kids savvy on entertainment-company synergy? Adults whose wallets already are lighter for their suffering through this dog of a "Cat" movie? Or maybe just the industry folks who stand to benefit from such ka-chinging. To them, profitable brand promotion at the expense of quality is old hat.
"Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat"
Directed by Bo Welch; written by Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer; based on the book by Dr. Seuss; photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Don Zimmerman; production designed by Alex McDowell; music by David Newman; produced by Brian Grazer. A Universal Pictures release; opens Friday, Nov. 21. Running time: 1:22. MPAA rating: PG (mild crude humor, some double-entendres).
The Cat - Mike Myers
Quinn - Alec Baldwin
Mom - Kelly Preston
Sally - Dakota Fanning
Conrad - Spencer Breslin
Mrs. Kwan - Amy Hill