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With: Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning
Written by: Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer, based on the book by Dr. Seuss
Directed by: Bo Welch
MPAA Rating: PG for mild crude humor and some double entendres
Running Time: 82
Date: 03/18/2013

The Cat in the Hat (2003)

0 Stars

One for the Litterbox

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Anyone who dearly loves Dr. Seuss' original "Cat in the Hat" books will despise this week's new film version. Actually, to be fair, anyone even vaguely familiar with Dr. Seuss' original books will despise the movie. The last truly disastrous children's film, The Master of Disguise at least felt as if Dana Carvey were really trying. You felt more pity than hatred. But Dr. Suess' The Cat in the Hat made me fondly long for Dana Carvey. It's a noisy nightmare, a hugely impersonal, manufactured product. It shows not only a complete disregard for children, but also utter contempt.

Where do I start? How about Mike Myers' awful performance, which combines elements of Jewish stereotypes, homosexual stereotypes, bits of Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion and bits from Myers' own repertoire, including Fat Bastard and Dr. Evil? The successful comedian was clearly bored and never bothered to come up with a personality for his character. Second only to Myers is Amy Hill as Mrs. Kwan, an Asian babysitter who promptly falls asleep and snores throughout the picture (the audience would do well to join her). Unfortunately, she has blatantly stolen her act outright from Alex Borstein's Mrs. Swan character on "MADtv." They didn't even bother to disguise the name! In third place is Dakota Fanning, the child actress who gained notice for her role in I Am Sam and caused some head-scratching for her uptight control freak role in Uptown Girls. This poor girl has to snap at some point; she once again plays the uptight control freak who plans her every move on a palm pilot.

Yes, that's right. There's a palm pilot in this movie. Also a CD player, a beeper, microwave popcorn, hand sanitizer lotion, a reference to lactose intolerance, a rave scene (with obligatory Paris Hilton cameo), a plug for Universal Studios and two songs by Smash Mouth, a band forever primed to sell their songs to the latest movies, TV shows and commercials. It goes without saying that none of these things appear in Seuss' books, and the books' timelessness is now lost in the studio's frenzy of trying to suck up to savvy children. In the end, they only succeed in draining the very essence out of the books. Despite their efforts to be "cool," however, the filmmakers still find time and space to include the following: burp jokes, fart jokes, toilet jokes, whacked-in-the-crotch jokes, hairball jokes, sex jokes, poo jokes, butt jokes, vomit jokes and violence jokes. Seuss possessed enough talent and imagination never to need any of these bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings.

The plot, such as it is, has expanded from the book's simple one: cat visits children, messes up house, helps clean house. Now the story involves chasing after a magic lock that shuts a door between the "real" world and the cat's world. And the children's single mom (Kelly Preston) is now dating a sleazy neighbor (Alec Baldwin) who wants to send the children to military school.

So whom do we blame for this ungodly mess? Production designer Bo Welch makes his feature directorial debut here, and the three screenwriters Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer previously penned the wretched Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But most of all we can blame producer Brian Grazer, who just finished sucking the life out of the latest Joel and Ethan Coen film, Intolerable Cruelty This is the man who failed to see that the Grinch story is actually a story of anti-commercialism, and subsequently turned it into the most transparently commercial film of 2000. Indeed, this is the film that Pirates of the Caribbean could have been if Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski had decided not to have fun. "Fun" is a word that gets tossed around in The Cat in the Hat from time to time, but the filmmakers clearly have no idea what the word means. The Seuss books can be had for less than the combined price of popcorn, drinks and movie tickets; I urge you to stay home and read. Even staring at the wall is better than this.

(This review also appeared in The San Francisco Examiner.)

DVD Details: Universal's disc includes way more extras than I could possibly want; many of them are more like threats. We have deleted scenes, outtakes and featurettes on the special effects, set design and music.

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