The great thing about the irrepressibly anarchic Cat in the Hat is that even Hollywood can’t contain him. They can stretch out the story with filler that ranges from the superfluous to the distracting and once in a while reaches the level of oh-no-not-that-again. They can put in some inexcusably vulgar humor. But when Cat takes over, it is still entertaining.
Mike Meyers, as irrepressibly mischevious as the Cat himself, is a great choice for the role. His Cat seems to be a master of vaudvillian schtick with a few of the voices from The Wizard of Oz and a sort of demented Mary Poppins thrown in for what turns out to be very good measure. His energy and audacity — and his astonishingly animated expressions under all that fur — do as much as possible to keep the movie on track.
But very little of what is added to the story is worth the effort. Dr. Seuss was much too smart to try to insert any kind of a moral into his stories or to give us too much detail about the lives of the children the Cat comes to visit. This left his story universal and subject to interpretation.
But it would not fill even the short 73 minute running time of this feature film. So, this version makes the Cat into an “I’m here to teach you a lesson,” sort of guy. Conrad (Spencer Breslin) has to learn to follow the rules and Sally (Dakota Fanning) has to learn to loosen up and not be so bossy. And they have to learn to appreciate one another. Awwwwww. We also get a completely gratuitous menace in Alec Baldwin, a neighbor with a corset and an upper plate who schemes to marry the kids’ mother and have Conrad sent to a military boarding school. None of this is very original or interesting, and it all takes much too much time away from the real story, which is the absolute chaos created by the Cat and the reaction of the kids — a mixture of horror and delight, with delight winning out. And why not? Who among us does not thrill to see that “don’t you touch anything” living room covered in splotches of purple goo?
This undeniable pleasure is almost enough to keep the movie working. Those jellybean-colored sets (and Mom’s just-drycleaned dress) are cheerfully destroyed along with, Mom’s rules, some of the kids’ ideas about themselves, and, apparently, the laws of physics. We get both the fun of imagining all of that and the satisfaction of a happy ending. Meyers is simply a hoot to watch, with able support from the kids (especially Fanning) and the fish (voice of Sean Hayes).
But parents should know that this movie has some surprisingly rude and crude humor for a PG, including double entendres and almost-swearing, potty humor, and other bodily function jokes. The Cat picks up a muddy garden implement and refers to it as “a dirty hoe” and spells out the s-word. The Cat is hit in the crotch. He has a fake bare behind. It is almost unfathomable that the people behind this movie put material like that in a movie based on a beloved book for children. There is also a lot of comic peril that may be too intense for younger children. An adult character drinks beer.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Sally had a hard time with her friends and why Conrad had a hard time following rules. They might also like to pretend they are Thing One and Thing Two (or Chocolate Thun-da) and do the opposite of what they are told.
Families who enjoy this movie should read the book and its sequel and some of the other Seuss classics like Horton Hears a Who and The Sneetches.