Dr. Seuss is one of the most loved and known of very young children’s books writers and a major influence on our modern popular culture. Dr. Seuss’s most famous works include “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, “Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham”. His novels are age-related and logically quite short with very simple story lines, thus the first adaption’s of his books were half- hour long cartoons*. Unfortunately, in 2000, Ron Howard directed a live- action version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, which featured Jim Carrey as the Grinch (being as annoying as possible). The film was a success, and so began the phenomena of live- action adaption’s of Dr. Seuss’ work. One of the most horribly failed adaption’s is the live- action version of “Cat in the Hat” (2003), mostly because, despite its similar title and premise, the movie has nothing to do with the book it is apparently “based on”.
“Cat in the Hat” centers on the children pair of 12- year old Conrad (Spencer Breslin) and his younger sister Sally (Dakota Fanning). Conrad is shown being the out-of-control trouble maker while Sally is cast as the obsessive control freak. The film makes the children, despite their tender ages, caricatures of gender stereotypes: the wild male and the uptight female, a depiction of gender which cast women as killjoys and men as free and fun-loving, even if the behavior causes problems for those around them. The film depicts Conrad’s behavior, regardless of it being beyond the pale of mere trouble making and inflicting severe difficulty upon those around him (especially his single caretaking mother), the viewer is suppose to sympathize with Conrad more than with Sally who’s worst crimes is only that she alienates others.
The children’s Mother is a working woman whose boss wants to have an office party at her house. On the day when the planned party is meant to take place, the mother is pressured to leave for her work, and is forced to beg the kids to take care of the house to insure a “clean” party (Her boss is evilly phobic about the “clean”). She hires Ms. Kwan, an Asian woman, to babysit the kids. Since Ms. Kwan’s foreign, the film decides to make her watch a TV broadcast where her home country (Taiwan) is portrayed as being filled with people who even in parliament debates punch each other instead of having discussions. She then also falls asleep while she’s supposed to be babysitting the kids. The way Ms. Kwan is written weaves a subtle implication of the non-white as lazy and irresponsible, and (somewhat in contradiction) explosively and unexplainably violent – or as the tone of the film seems to suggest: “It’s never too early to teach kids to be prejudice against others!”.
As the kids stare miserably out of the window of their house, seemingly capture inside and the boredom entailed, they hear a bump upstairs. The bump turns out to be caused by a big black-and-white talking cat with a Tall stripped hat. This turns out to be the said Cat in the hat (Mike Meyers) and this is where the film truly begins its downhill journey.
The cat acts nothing like the original cat from Dr. Seuss’ book. While the Cat in the original book did cause some trouble, this cat constantly makes sexual innuendos and threats of violence. He is far less caring of the kids than his original counterpart. The original cat could cause messes, yet all the while sincerely wanting the children to break their boredom and enjoy his games. In the end (and this is also implied with the gentleness of the original) the Cat will back off when the kids show he’s crossed the line and in the end rectify unconditionally any damage his actions have created (in the movie the conditions are Actually A Contract!). Mike Meyer’s cat, on the other hand, puts children into danger, constantly threatens violence for the slightest inconvenience, is impregnated with the insipid gestures of the most cliques vaudeville actor (and seems to be channeling a bad cowardly lion impression for some reason), is fond of insulting others and is a threat to those around him. In short, Meyer’s Cat would seem to be the antithetical other to Dr. Seuss’ original character.
The introduction of the Cat begins with him storming into the apartment, answering the children’s question of why he has appeared with “well when a mommy cat and daddy cat love each other very much…”. After that, he proceeds to make innuendos while seeing a picture of the children’s mother, beats up an elephant (which just randomly pops up), cuts off his own tail, and threatens to kill several people on several occasions, including nearly hitting a kid in the back of the head with a baseball bat. In the midst of the film, when the children try to catch their runaway dog, the children lay out two options of what to do. The Cat responds to their plans, stating: “There’s also a third option. It involves… Murder!”. For those who are particularly attached to Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat”, seeing Meyer’s Cat state murder as a answer to a problem is the equivalent of finding Winnie the Pooh rambling on about the possibilities which lie in bank robberies – a terrifying and repugnant scene to witness, while leaving the nostalgic audience feeling dirty and betrayed.
The problem is not that the film uses violence and suggestive humor, but that the film on a whole doesn’t consist of any other kind of humor, except for the occasional scatological joke. The film doesn’t seem to understand whether the film is made for adults, or for children, or for neither (If you chose the last option, congratulations! You guessed right!).
As for the violent attitude of the cat, most of these scenes seem to exist for the sake of “Dead Baby Comedy”. The internet critic Kyle “Oancitizen” Kallgren has stated that “Dead Baby Comedy” is a branch of humor which is design to push the audience into the corner of shock and offense. Naturally, when done well, “Dead Baby Comedy” can be used to make people reflect and re-think on society’s taboos. However when this branch of comedy is done wrong, it only leads to as Mr. Kallgren puts it: “You end up laughing at it, because what else can you do?”. The “Dead Baby Comedy” used in “Cat in The Hat” consists of the latter kind, where the viewer is put into a position where the only way to respond to the excruciating violent tone of the film is to laugh. Not because the jokes are funny or thought-provoking, but because they are straight out offensive and frightening.
An essential flaw of “Cat in the Hat” is also how many prejudices are enforced through the films story-telling. As mentioned before the babysitter Ms. Kwan has fallen asleep. While sleeping, she is constantly tormented by the Cat and his minions. She’s thrown around, used as a mop and even used as a boat near the end of the film. Ms. Kwan has no agency, no active role or even speech, and is only there to be used and cast aside and in worst causes physically abused while unconscious, by all of the other characters that are white or a talking animal. Since Ms. Kwan is the only non-white character in the film, the treatment of her character is fairly uncomfortable and it boggles the mind why the filmmakers would portray Ms. Kwan in such a light.
It is also worth mentioning that one of the primary villains, the mother’s mean-spirited boyfriend Quinn (Alec Baldwin), is at one point shown to be a closet over-weight person. Ms. Kwan is also overweight. Since the only plus size people in “Cat in the Hat” are portrayed negatively, this leads to a strong fat phobic feel to the film.
Add on to the uncomfortable feeling about other ethnicities, the strange repulsion to the overweight and the films narrow depictions of women and we’ve got a film full of violence, sexism, racism and sizeism. One which in the end seems to be aimed at children.
“Cat in the Hat” is one of the worst film adoptions from a book. Not only does the film have nothing in common with the book its “based on”, but the film just doesn’t work in any way. It can’t even decide who’s its audience and, in the end, can’t really entertain anyone.
*The 1966 Chuck Jones animated Version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, though diverging from the original text in a number of places, and having a musical score included, is considered a Classic of the Seuss genre and of the Jones animation style in general.