Cat in the Hat

Nov 26, 2003 at 12:00 am

I sat there with Nick; we sat there, we two. We watched the whole movie, and wished it were through. My 5-year-old son, giggled once, twice, thrice. What a shame, for a comedy, just thrice is not nice.

Let’s not mince words here, or try to be funny. The Cat in the Hat cost a whole lot of money. With trailers, toy tie-ins and splashy print ads, we wished for more mischief, not overblown doo-dads.

So all we could do was to sit, sit, sit, sit.

But there were parts we did like. Just maybe a bit.

Namely, the children: Dakota Fanning and Spencer Breslin, are textbook perfect as Sally and Conrad, the bored brother and sister who inhabit the Fiestaware-colored city of Anville.

Unlike the book, the movie pits the siblings as polar opposites: Sally is the control freak; Conrad (and we finally know the boy’s name, as the Cat books never tell it) is the rule-breaker.

It’s a delicious extreme, especially for stirring up trouble on a rainy day. And the duo captures all the trepidation and sense of adventure that Dr. Seuss instilled in these two wide-eyed characters.

But Kelly Preston and Alec Baldwin, in their respective roles as Mom (a real estate agent) and Mom’s smarmy purple-suited boyfriend, elicit a reflexive wince. Baldwin especially, even though he’s an alum of kids’ movies, having served as the conductor in Thomas and the Magic Railroad. A babysitter, who serves as the butt of many Cat antics, is also thrown into the cast to make the fact that mother is gone a bit more P.C.

And then there’s the fish — the worrisome, quarrelsome fish.

In the book, he carries a lot of clout, warning the Cat that he should not be there when mother is out. In the movie, the animated goldfish could easily have been thrown a few more lines, but that would have left less screen time for Mike Myers to monopolize as Austin Powers in a cat suit.

The appeal of Seuss’ Cat has always been his gallant, yet roguish manner. But the Cat, as interpreted by Myers and director Bo Welch, has an annoying Muttley-cum-Charles Nelson Reilly laugh, the tangential fury of a Robin Williams soliloquy, and a Carmen Miranda dance number we could all do without.

There is a pretty funny scene involving a rave party (and was that a Hilton sister?), but otherwise, the Cat just tries too hard. From a 5-year-old’s perspective, he’s even a bit scary. And he’s definitely more smart-ass than mischievous.

Kid-pleasing burp and fart jokes abound, and for the adults, eye-rolling double entendres. (“You dirty hoe,” says the Cat to the muddy garden tool.)

A movie three times as long as the 1971 true-to-the-book “Cat in the Hat” TV special obviously has to depart from the text.

But if ever there were an instance of a book being better than the show. Then this I would say, illustrates that cliché — just in case you might want to know.

E-mail Alice Rhein at [email protected].