Dir: Bo Welch. US. 2003. 82 mins.
Taken on its own terms, the $100m-plus live-action screen version of Dr Seuss' signature children's book is a no more than typically gaudy and aggressive Hollywood comedy that appears to have been production designed for kids but written largely for adults. US reviewers, however, have not taken kindly to such treatment of a beloved childhood favourite and some parents seem to have felt the same way: in spite of a very wide release, massive advertising campaign and numerous promotional tie-ins The Cat In The Hat's estimated opening weekend gross of $40.1m was 27% down on the figure for Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which opened in the same pre-Thanksgiving slot (and was also distributed by Universal) three years ago. The opening points to a sizeable US take but one considerably short of Grinch's $260m. And it does not bode particularly well for Cat's international roll out (by DreamWorks through UIP) - even Grinch managed only $81m outside the US and its star Jim Carrey was better known internationally than Cat headliner Mike Myers.
The original book - which was written by Theodor Geisel under his Dr Seuss penname in 1957 and has since sold 10m copies worldwide - comprises only a couple of hundred rhyming lines. So the film has to embellish the story of suburban kids Sally (Fanning, from Sweet Home Alabama) and Conrad (Breslin, from The Kid) and their surprise visit from Myers' six-foot cat in the red and white hat. Sally and Conrad's real estate broker mum (Preston) has given them strict instructions not to mess up the house before her party for employer Mr Humberfloob (Hayes, from sitcom Will & Grace) and the kids are being watched by their scheming neighbour and would-be step-dad Quinn (Baldwin). But none of that stops the Cat - and his hyperactive helpers Thing 1 and Thing 2 - from wreaking havoc in the name of fun.
Production design at times feels like the star of the show (not surprisingly, given that director Bo Welch has previously worked - on movies including Men In Black and Wild Wild West - as a production designer). The kids' town of Anville is brought to life with exaggerated architecture, stylised landscapes and a colour scheme of sharp yellows, greens and mauves. Animation and CG effects are used relatively sparingly, mostly to create the kids' prim talking goldfish (voiced by Hayes) and the story's brief excursion into the Cat's surreal universe.
Official star Myers plays the Cat like a cross between his Dr Evil character from the Austin Powers movies and several other wisecracking personas (a few of which will be recognised by US viewers from Myers' stint on Saturday Night Live). The turn won't mean much to kids, but for adults it offers some enjoyably campy moments.
The humour comes in the form of basic slapstick and a stream of verbal, often topical gags supplied by writers Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer, who once wrote for hit sitcom Seinfeld. The verbal stuff is certainly aimed at adults and it is sometimes quite crude (the writers seem to have foreseen criticism when they have one character complain about "MTV-style flash at the expense of content and moral values."). Besides innocuous bits about TV infomercials and litigation attorneys there are jokes about balls, hoes (the human kind) and "drunken clowns with hepatitis," as well as one tacky moment when the Cat seems to take a special fancy to a photo of the kids' mum.
Oddly, given that the original material was in rhyming couplets, the film's songs are mostly only fragments, and not particularly catchy fragments at that.
Prod cos: Universal Pictures, Dreamworks Pictures, Imagine Entertainment.
Dists: Universal (US), UIP (intl).
Prod: Brian Grazer.
Exec prods: Eric McLeod, Gregg Taylor, Karen Kehela Sherwood, Maureen Peyrot.
Scr: Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer, based on the book by Dr Seuss.
DoP: Emmanuel Lubezki.
Prod des: Alex McDowell.
Ed: Don Zimmerman.
Special make-up effects: Steve Johnson.
Costume des: Rita Ryack.
Songs: Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman.
Music: David Newman.
Main cast: Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Sean Hayes.