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The Cat in the Hat
Review written by: Alex Sandell

The Cat in the Hat is a mess.  It's a slapdash piece of slapstick slapped together for some quick holiday cash.  The movie underestimates children and is insulting to adults.  Dr. Seuss would be spinning in his grave, if he saw what Hollywood did to his beloved children's story.  At least 2000's How the Grinch Stole Christmas tried to remain faithful to the feel of the original Seuss story.  It didn't succeed, but you could see that some effort went into creating the picture.  The same can't be said for The Cat in the Hat.  This movie was made to capitalize on the 260 million success of Grinch.  Somewhere in the process of creating art for profit's sake, The Cat in the Hat turned into what could be the most irritating family film to explode out of Hollywood, to date.

How do you stretch a very short story into a full-length feature film?  If you're the screenwriters behind The Cat in the Hat, you add a few fart jokes, a couple of barf gags (only one, if you don't count coughing up a hairball as vomiting), an intrusive neighbor, and about a gazillion really awful Computer Generated special effects.  And then you try to string it all together convincingly enough to make audiences go out and buy all of the products you placed in the movie and the toys based upon your loutish film.   

Alec Baldwin plays the meddling neighbor, Larry.  Larry's dating Sally (Dakota Fanning) and Conrad's (Spencer Breslin) mom (Kelly Preston).  Conrad isn't pleased with the arrangement.  Larry, wanting Conrad out of the picture, tries to convince mom to send the disobedient boy to a military academy.  Sally is the opposite of her brother Conrad, and obeys mother's every command.  Both kids get left at home when mom is called back to work by her Obsessive Compulsive boss (a sign hangs in his building reading, "employees must wash hands constantly").  She's throwing a party for her co-workers later that night, and insists that her children make sure her house remains clean.  She hires a babysitter who does nothing more than serve as a prop throughout the film, and heads to her job.  Within seconds of the mom leaving, it begins to rain, the sitter/prop falls asleep and the Cat in the Hat (Mike Myers) arrives. 

There's no way to be polite about this — Myers sucks as the Cat in the Hat.  Rather than create something fresh, he simply revives Linda Richman, his sketch character from Saturday Night Live's Coffee Talk.  He then adds the laugh of Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion and the overly-caffeinated comedy of Robin Williams.  Unfortunately, the improvisation should be left to Williams, the laugh will always belongs to Burt Lahr, and Linda Richman should have remained on SNL.  If The Cat in the Hat was an episode of The Gong Show, Mike Myers would be yanked off the stage, booed by the audience, and told that he'll never work in this town again.

I honestly can't recall a performance as ugly, unlikable and unpleasant as the one Myers gives in The Cat in the Hat. There isn't much for him to do in the film, so he simply drives the audience nuts with a bunch of whacky little skits, a couple of ill-conceived songs, and hundreds of hopelessly flat one-liners.  I'm beginning to have a hard time even remembering when this guy was actually funny.  The most he ever gets from the audience for his efforts in The Cat in the Hat are a few courtesy laughs.  I could almost hear people in the auditorium thinking, "am I the only one who doesn't find this humorous?  I better chuckle, just to be safe." 

After Myers spends five or ten minutes being disagreeable to anyone with any taste whatsoever, the screenwriters work his character into their ridiculously thin plot.  It turns out that the crate containing Thing # 1 and Thing # 2 is also a portal to the Cat's world.  The Cat sets only one rule for the children, and that is to never unlock the crate.  Of course Conrad disobeys the Cat's only rule, the first chance he gets.  The lock Conrad removes, which is a CG bug, ends up on the family dog, and the dog ends up being taken by Larry the neighbor, who wants to use it to show his mother that the boy is irresponsible, and in desperate need of the military academy.  Of course Larry must be stopped faster than Alec Baldwin's career, so the Cat in the Hat and the two children set off to intercept the malicious neighbor and get back their dog (and the lock) back.

On the way to saving the day, we stop for various comedic moments that range anywhere from absolutely not working to not working at all.  The Cat in the Hat is confused for a Piñata, and is beaten with baseball bats.  When he's hit in the nuts, he imagines himself swinging on an idyllic spring afternoon.  The kids and the Cat hit a dance club where the Cat boogies down with Paris Hilton, who should be more embarrassed over appearing in this film than she is over some blurry sex tape.  We even stop for a serious moment or two.  Little Sally sees a party going on with all of her friends.  She wonders why she was never invited.  Why are her friends ignoring her?  Is it because she's too controlling?  Hopefully the Cat will set things right.

After a bunch of pointless crap not really fun or interesting for anyone, we find out that the family's house has melded with the Cat's world.  It looks oddly similar to the world of Willy Wonka.  Tons of junky ass Computer Generated effects happen in the Cat's dimension.  CG goo floats around, CG birds with books for wings fly in the sky, etc.  For no reason at all, the kids and the Cat ride the sleeping babysitter down a big roller-coaster sort of path.  Conrad says it reminds him of a ride at an amusement park and the Cat says, "like Universal Studios" and holds up a couple of tickets and winks.  We hear the "cha-ching" of a cash-register.  The gag is similar to the Wal-Mart moment in Looney Tunes:  Back in Action.  As a matter of fact, the entire movie could be compared, in certain ways, to that dud of a film.

People want their movies to be more than brand-reinforcement or 90 minute product-placements.  Acknowledging the fact that products are being placed doesn't make anything any better.  This Thanksgiving, the Hollywood marketing machine seems to have forgotten that kids aren't commercial lemmings.  It takes a good movie to get children to want to buy up all of the film's various plastic tie-ins.  A little bit of cinematic magic is needed to entrance a child.  There's nothing magical about The Cat in the Hat.  At times I found myself wondering if the producers wanted to torture their audience. 

The Cat in the Hat will make money by default - but not enough to make it a box-office smash.  It has the weekend before Thanksgiving, when unsuspecting filmgoers will attend, if only because they don't know any better.  And then it has the huge Thanksgiving weekend, where people will go because they're loaded up on cranberry cobbler and high on too much turkey.  But this turkey of a movie will be forgotten before the real turkey's even been digested.  After family films such as Looney Tunes:  Back in Action and The Cat in the Hat, kids and parents alike should be thankful for one thing this Thanksgiving:  the DVD release of Finding Nemo

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Coming soon -- Reviews of The Last Samurai and Return of the King!

Text ©(Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].