Despite greatly expanding what was on the written page, "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat"like 2000's Ron Howard-directed "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
" before itwholeheartedly captures the tone and look of their children's book counterparts. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was a syrupy moralistic fable, and so was its live-action adaptation, just as "The Cat in the Hat"the book and the movieis fluffy, more comedic, and has a thinner storyline. The latter restraint initially hints at doom until it becomes clear that screenwriters Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer actually invested care and energy into the proceedings, broadening the plot enough to withhold its painless 82-minute running time while still remaining faithful to its source.
When working mother Joan (Kelly Preston) must rush off to her real estate job for the day, she leaves her two young children, rule-breaker Conrad (Spencer Breslin) and control-freak Sally (Dakota Fanning), under the care of incessantly narcoleptic baby-sitter Ms. Kwan (Amy Hill). Bored and with nothing to do ("the sun did not shine/it was too wet to play"), Conrad and Sally are paid an unexpected visit by the 6-foot-tall Cat in the Hat (Mike Myers), whose one and only goal is to get them to have fun. The outlook becomes increasingly dreary, however, when the house turns to shambles. And Conrad and Sally's future becomes at stake when Joan's phony, child-hating boyfriend Quinn (Alec Baldwin), who wants to send Conrad to military school, spies on the mess they've made and threatens to tell on them.
Directed by Bo Welch (a production designer making his helming debut), "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" is a spirited fantasy that doesn't slow down long enough for the viewer to think about its flaws. A visionary triumph of special effects and sparklingly colorful set designs (think "Edward Scissorhands"), the film captures the essence of Dr. Seuss' illustrations, all the while lending each shot its own flash of candy-colored, smiley-faced innovation. Especially impressive is the suburban neighborhood of Liplapper Lane, specifically built for the film, where all the houses are identically pink, all the cars are yellow, and the grass is the brightest shade of green the world has ever seen. And special note should also go to some of the most exuberantly creative altered studio logos in memory.
As the rambunctious Cat in the Hat, Mike Myers (2002's "Austin Powers in Goldmember
") works his comedic magic once again, playing the part wiith a chronic case of high sugar and Attention Deficit Disorder. While his non-stop charade grows a little tiresome, it is supposed to; the Cat eventually wears down the kids as the stakes grow higher. More unfortunate is his look, which is less reminiscent of a feline than a deranged clown with the creepy cackle of Pennywise (Tim Curry) from 1990's Stephen King adaptation of "It." Nonetheless, Myers gives the part his all, selling a great many one-liners, some of which are decidedly edgy, adult, and improvised ("the dirty ho" gag, the "shit" reference using acronyms, the erection allusion, and even the very name of the street they live on is one double-entendre after the next). Some parents may not appreciate having to explain a great deal to their child after the movie, but most kids will be completely delighted just to behold its diverting sights and sounds. Speaking of sounds, the soundtrack is also of note, particularly Smashmouth's catchy cover of The Beatles' "Getting Better" and a part-clever/part-bizarre use of The Commodores' "Easy").
As bickering siblings Conrad and Sally, whose differences gradually work themselves out as the Cat works his offbeat brand of magic, Spencer Breslin (2000's "Disney's The Kid
") and Dakota Fanning (2003's "Uptown Girls
") are charmers with a lot of chemistry with each other. Fanning, one of today's most very talented actresses of age 9, is so well-versed in comic delivery that she garners some of the movie's bigger laughs (on her meticulously planned out "To-Do" list, one of her plans is to "be spontaneous," while another is to "capture childhood memories"). Less on-target is Alec Baldwin (2001's "Pearl Harbor
"), a fine actor who plays the villain of Quinn so over-the-top his every appearance evokes nails on a chalkboard. Meanwhile, Kelly Preston (2003's "View from the Top
") suffices nicely as Conrad and Sally's mom, while Amy Hill (2002's "Big Fat Liar
") literally sleeps her way through the part of the baby-sitter.
"Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" is a swirling, entertaining, fervent motion picture that pays an affectionate tribute to Dr. Seuss' legacy. At the same time, the movie's every last second is so busy and fast that, when director Bo Welch yearns to offer up a sweet dramatic moment or two in the second half, he botches the results. Such is the case with the final scene between Sally and Conrad and the Cat; it is a disappointing rush job exempt of the sort of nostalgic and humane catharsis it deserves. Better, then, to view "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" as strictly a comedy, where it garners quite a few laughs and even a bit of charm. Had director Welch been able to slow things down a notch and pay more care to his characters' burgeoning friendship, he would have likely had a new family classic on his hands, rather than what amounts to a disposably fun, but awfully pretty theme park attraction.