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'The Cat In The Hat'

Hollywood version is not your grandma's 'Cat in the Hat'

Friday, November 21, 2003

By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

So, here's the pitch. It's raining outside and these two kids have nothing to do, right. When their mother goes out, this giant talking cat comes in and messes up the house. Then they have to clean it up before she gets home.

'The Cat In The Hat'

RATING: PG for mild crude humor and some double entendres.

STARRING: Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin.



Brilliant as it was, Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat" was never one of those books that made you think, "Boy, they oughtta make a movie out of this." And they held off for almost 50 years.

But with Hollywood's insatiable thirst for material, particularly of the nostalgic kind, nothing is safe, not even "Go, Dog, Go."

The good news is that "The Cat in the Hat" isn't quite the dog that it looks like in the previews.

Before we go any further, we should note that this film adaptation is not for the lady at the library. It doesn't stay faithful to the book and it doesn't even look like the book, though it does embrace the warped visual sense of some of Seuss' other classics.

It doesn't even begin with "The sun did not shine/It was too wet to play" or "Sally and I" sitting at the window. Rather, it opens with a shot of a fantastical neighborhood where the houses are a pastel purple and zooms into offices of Humberfloob real estate where a germophobic boss (Sean Hayes) runs roughshod over a staff that includes Joan Walden (Kelly Preston), the mom who is away.

Humberfloob's presence that evening at the Walden home will require the white-glove treatment. That will be more of a challenge for Conrad (Spencer Breslin), who's luge-ing down the staircase, than perfect little Sally (Dakota Fanning), who has to remind herself on her palm-pilot to-do list to "be spontaneous."

The cat is going to help with that. How or why he got there doesn't matter but he wants to "have lots of good fun that is funny." With that, Mike Myers pounces on the film like a Borscht Belt gadget comic, scoring on some gags, flopping on others, and occasionally allowing bits of Austin Powers and Dr. Evil to creep into his performance.

Like most kid fare these days, from "Rugrats" on up, it gets a little bawdy, as the PG rating suggests. The up-up-up trick with the fish is sabotaged by the Cat's lactose intolerance. "Plumber's butt" is duly sight-gagged. And in one of many jokes aimed at the parents, the Cat's car, the Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger (S.L.O.W.), which he says was originally called the "Super Hydraulic Instantaneous Transporter" (bleep).

Although it's never scary, there are also some gross-out moments involving the narcoleptic Taiwanese baby sitter (Amy Hill) and Alec Baldwin, who as Joan's smarmy suitor, ends up getting the "Home Alone" treatment.

Wrapping up in under 90 minutes, it's all very slight -- like the source material -- and a bit formulaic, working less as morality tale than mere flight of fancy.

Even more than Myers, the visuals carry the day, thanks to first-time director Bo Welch, a four-time Oscar nominee for his production design on such films as "Beetlejuice," "Edward Scissorhands" and "Men in Black." Unlike "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which was more grotesque than Seuss-like, "The Cat in the Hat" is so colorful, so dreamlike, so Wonka-d out, you could almost watch it as a silent film.

Did the world need a "Cat in the Hat" movie? No. Should we put the book away and just watch the movie? Of course not.

Still, if you can get over the idea of messing with Seuss, this latest Hollywood "offense" is worth a trip to the bargain matinee on a cold, cold wet day.

Weekend Editor Scott Mervis can be reached at or 412-263-2576.

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