Children's movies are a toughie. I want all of them to be as good as Harry Potter or Finding Nemo: full of wonderment for both kids and adults, but so many of them are just completely trite. The Cat in the Hat is unfortunately more of the same. It's uninspiring and fairly banal especially when compared to the children's films back when I was a kid (The Neverending Story, The Last Unicorn, The Dark Crystal, etc.). Compared to these films, The Cat in the Hat plays like an episode of any Saturday morning cartoon show stretched out to fill an 80 minute runtime. Sure, everyone says "Back when I was a kid, things were better." Truly though, things were better.
With films like The Cat in the Hat, brightly-colored sets and CG designs take the place of a good story and the film feels kind of empty (see also Spy Kids 3-D). A good kids' film should have an interesting story where the kids are people you can empathize with and they face things that are maybe a little scary, maybe a little complex, and they have to really apply themselves to reach a solution.
In The Cat in the Hat, little Sally carries a Palm Pilot and little Conrad is a complete brat. Who are these kids? I don't know these kids in real life. If I am a child, how am I supposed to relate to them? Every single character in the film is a one-dimensional cookie-cutter and they march like little robots from one predictable scene to the next.
Even The Cat is pretty mild. He talks like "Coffee Tawk" Linda Richman from Saturday Night Live and laughs like the Cowardly Lion. His catch phrase "Oh Yeah," is ripped off from the Kool-Aid Man and he honestly seems to care about the kids. That's not how The Cat is supposed to be! When I read the book as a kid, I remember hating The Cat and thinking he was an absolute menace. I was horrified by the thought that he might actually exist. Why wouldn't he leave those poor kids alone? Why does having fun mean making a mess? Why doesn't he suggest alternative ways to have fun like watching public television and reading books that are above your grade level? Okay, in all seriousness, The Cat in the Hat desperately lacks a sense of tension. If you want to argue "that's because everyone already knows how things turn out," I will direct you to Harry Potter as well as every Disney film which is based on a fairy tale. Sinister is good! And, in my opinion, The Cat from the novel was in fact a little bit sinister. Mike Meyers' Cat is just a little bit silly.
Alright, alright, the answer to the 90 million dollar question, "Will my kids like it?" Yes, they probably will. The film is brightly colored and The Cat has all kinds of weird inventions and there's some weird gooey substance in the movie that you can probably buy at Target and put in your kids' stocking and they will go ape. Moreover, the second youngest member of the DVDtalk.com family said she enjoyed it and though only four-years-old she didn't get bored or fidget. Her favorite scene was when the house merged with The Cat's universe and created a Salvador Dali-esque funhouse. I have to admit, that was pretty cool.
The film is full of visual delights and that's what the kids are going to like about it. The film's director, Bo Welch, previously worked as a production designer for films such as Edward Scissorhands, and Men in Black. To Welch's credit, the sets are great. I wouldn't be surprised if the production team is nominated for an award, and it's a shame that the rest of the filmmaking team didn't put forth as much effort or creativity.
The Cat in the Hat was written by a trio of former television writers and it shows. Canned jokes are flung at the audience like so much purple Flubber. There are some fart-jokes, an infomercial spoof, some physical comedy, and some just-plain weirdness like when Thing #2 asks to be called something like "Chocolate Thunda." I wanted to laugh, but I just couldn't. The generally self-conscious attitude of the film just seems to be a crutch for a lackluster plot and fairly un-funny script. For example, in one scene, The Cat and the children are on a kind of roller-coaster ride. As I began to write in my notes, "Coming Soon to Universal Studios Theme Park..." The Cat waved a few Universal Studios brochures at the audience and chuckled mischievously. Oh, it's so quaint and, TOTALLY CORRUPT. I don't want post-modernism, I want magic! I want to be delighted by seeing a book from my childhood brought to the big screen! Alas, the ones who will truly enjoy this film are the ones who aren't old enough to have even read the original material.
If you don't have kids, don't bother with this one, even if you like Mike Meyers. If you do have kids, and they reallyreallyreally want to see The Cat and the Hat, you might as well take them. The film doesn't stink it just fails to live up to its potential. But do me a favor, and rent them something like Labyrinth later that week. No childhood is complete without a little exposure to some creepy muppets and David Bowie in a mullet wig. It made me who I am today.
-Megan A. Denny