Some great books become great films. “Forrest Gump” comes to mind, as does “To Kill a Mockingbird.” These movies succeed because they bring to life characters that transfer easily from page to screen. It is now hard to read either book without thinking of Forrest and Atticus being fleshed out by Tom Hanks and Gregory Peck, respectively. These movies leave an indelible mark on the mind. That is the nature of movies; their images stay with us long after the movie is over.
And then there are books that don’t work as movies. “The Cat in the Hat” is one of those. Visually it is gorgeous. The colors and the set design are fantastic. They are eye candy for the screen. But, like eating a candy bar for lunch—which seems like a good idea at the start and tastes good going down—in the end you feel sick and wished you had not eaten it. After viewing “The Cat in the Hat,” I had that sick feeling and wished I had not watched it. The promise of the set design and visuals do nothing to help the story in any way. Put bluntly, the movie does not work.
It doesn’t work because no one can capture the whimsy and magic of Dr. Seuss. The undercurrent in his books of fanciful imagination and abandonment seems lost in the translations to the screen. There is also the “contempt factor,” for the book’s story is so well known and so well done that anything less is contemptible.
We all know the story. Conrad and Sally are at home. It begins to rain, they become bored, and then “the cat in the hat” shows up and mayhem ensues. Their house gets destroyed, and the children grow anxious about their mother coming home to what she thinks will be an immaculate house. That’s pretty much the story of the movie, portrayed via a bunch of sight gags and much aplomb by Mike Myers as the Cat in the Hat.
Mike Myers is one of the funniest actors working today. His characters Wayne Campbell and Austin Powers are now entries in our social lexicon. Myers has a way of presenting culture, be it American or British, and making fun of it in truly original ways. Here, however, he is buried under make-up, and we do not get to experience his charm. I found this comic master annoying over time and full of few laughs.
What is missing is what Dr. Seuss told in the book. The Cat is the personification of the Freud’s Id. He is mischief personified. Myers does not seem to be able to convey this. His fun is not as funny or as engaging as the book. In the book, the Fish is the Super Ego. He speaks as the voice of moderation and calm. Here, the Fish is nothing more than a character that has to be stuck in the story because the book’s author created him.
Then there are the children, who discover there is little fun to be had in this mess of a movie.
This movie will do well at the box office. There will be lots of business for it during the holidays, which is a shame. Like its predecessor, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” the movie version of “The Cat in the Hat” misses the mark, but because it will do so much business there will be other Dr. Seuss books coming to the screen.
That means that, in a year or so, we can look forward to treatments of The Lorax or Yertle the Turtle. They will put Adam Sandler in a turtle suit or make a Lorax costume for Sting. Then movie-goers will endure another ham-fisted attempt at making a classic of literature into another bad movie.
Do yourself a favor and pick up the book. What is on the screen is not as good as what is on the page. And the image of the onscreen Cat in the Hat is not the image you want in your mind for all time.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG for mild crude humor and some double-entendres
Director: Bo Welch
Writers: Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer
Cast: The Cat: Mike Meyers; Conrad: Spenser Breslin; Sally: Dakota Fanning; Mom: Kelly Preston; Lawrence Quinn: Alec Baldwin; Mr. Humberfloob/ Voice of the Fish: Sean Hayes; Mrs. Kwan: Amy Hill.
Visit the movie’s official Web site.