It gets a little derivative fawning over films that have already gained swaths of recognition. As in, I feel like it is almost a little unneeded for me to write another essay about why a film like Modern Times (1936) is so significant and well crafted. Therefore, I am currently writing this giddy with excitement to talk about Bo Welch’s Cat in the Hat (2003), a film that was (and still is) widely panned by most people and I’m here to tell you why that should not be the case.
Welch, originally an art director, and production designer has not directed another film since. This is a shame because as far as how the film looks and feels, he knocks it out of the park. As far as getting that Dr. Seuss but simultaneously Wes Anderson vibe, it’s a weird combination, but it fits. Three-time Academy Award winner Emmanuel Lubezki as director of photography is a big part of this too. Lubezki went on to do cinematography for Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life (2011) on top of his three Oscars for his work on Gravity (2013), Birdman (2014), and The Revenant (2015). I don’t want to go as far as saying this deserved an Oscar nomination but with Lubezki’s impressive resume I’d say this is another good display of his ability behind the camera.
Welch did fail in one major part though, this is not a children’s film at all. In fact, I remember at the age of four I was outright terrified of this thing. Mike Myers as the Cat in the Hat is something that should not be shown to children at least under the age of eight, and Thing One and Thing Two, kids should probably be even older to see. What about the source material? Some may say. It doesn’t matter, the source material is just a vehicle for the surrealist comedy to unfold. The other live-action Dr. Seuss film adaptation, Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) pales in comparison because it is Jim Carrey as the Grinch attempting to be funny while telling a straightforward version of the book. There are no detours, just a by-the-numbers retelling of a classic Christmas story. That’s what makes The Cat in the Hat such a great watch though. The simpler things in life are Mike Myers as the Cat in the Hat calling a garden tool a “dirty hoe” before smiling at the camera in a smug fashion, which ironically is just such a dumb joke. Or the Cat’s hat being used as a euphemism for an erection. Why is it that it is so funny when after The Cat in the Hat gets hit in the crotch, the film cuts to a dream sequence of the Cat swinging in a dress to “Easy Like a Sunday Morning” by Lionel Richie? Because it makes absolutely no sense at all. These are just two things put together and somehow the lack of cohesiveness makes it ironically brilliant. As time progresses, the humor in The Cat in the Hat feels more modern and in tune with the layers of irony that a lot of modern comedy uses. Myers seems to make a mockery out of the whole thing, allowing Sally and Conrad’s (Dakota Fanning and Spencer Breslin) house to be his own playground of hellish chaos. While yes, the children’s book had that aspect in it too; Seuss did not have the courage to add in a mock-cooking show where The Cat in the Hat violently threatens a clone of himself in a sweater named “The Guy in the Sweater Who Asks All the Obvious Questions” with a machete.
In conclusion, if you have or have not seen this film, I would recommend giving it another look. You will laugh at the sheer absurdity of Myers’ performance and how it has become very much in tune with the modern comedic zeitgeist. It is not perfect, it doesn’t even have a clear message, but it is a quick 82-minute watch that provides fodder for quotable moments and jokes. My friend Andy put it best when saying that, “like Apocalypse Now, The Cat in the Hat is a slow descent into madness”.