After the successful release of How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 2000, with Jim Carrey charming audiences as the curious green title character, it was an inevitability that the equally successful Dr. Seuss’ book, The Cat in the Hat would be next. Plastering several layers of prosthetics onto Mike Myers, whilst undertaking a similar cartoonish style as the previous Seuss outing, Universal assumed little could go wrong with the release of the film in 2003.
This wish couldn’t have been further from the reality, however, with Seuss’s widow, Audrey Geisel, hating the film so much that she banned the company from making any further live-action adaptations of her husband’s works, calling the project a “particular disappointment”. Seuss wasn’t the only one who lambasted the film either, with The Cat in the Hat holding a meagre 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, whilst also being commonly recognised as one of the worst movies of all time.
Quite why the film was so despised remains something of a mystery, with audience members clearly believing the book is some sort of sacred text akin to War and Peace or To Kill a Mockingbird. Read to children across the world, Seuss’ story is a rhyming picture book with little subtext to dig deep into, a direct adaptation would’ve lasted no longer than ten minutes. Instead, what director Bo Welch and writers Alec Berg and David Mandel set out to do is make something far more unique.
Bizarre, puerile and psychedelic, the filmmakers took curious liberties with the adaptation of Seuss’ tale but did well to imbue it with its own idiosyncratic brand of humour that was surprisingly ahead of its time. Coming from the writers of Curb your Enthusiasm, Veep and Seinfeld, The Cat in the Hat toys with comedy throughout, often hitting and sometimes missing, like a sketch show born from the mind of a hyperactive child with blue food stains down their T-shirt.
To watch The Cat in the Hat is to enter into a wormhole of absurdity where time seems to not exist at all, as if you’re experiencing a VR fever dream led by your strangest childhood recurring fantasy. Clocking in at just 82 minutes, the film feels like a hallucinogenic trip that is over shortly after it’s just begun, with the vibrant set design and peculiar character designs absorbing you into a radiant world, before spitting you back onto your sofa at the movie’s close.
‘Did I just see Paris Hilton in an underground nightclub scene?’ you might say as you come around from your daze, ‘and was that The Cat in the Hat making a sexual innuendo about a ‘dirty hoe’’. As you awaken and regain genuine consciousness you’ll realise that indeed everything did happen as you remembered, with the film displaying as much frenetic nonsense as the most psychedelic Saturday morning cartoon.
In fact, when compared to modern cartoons such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Rick and Morty and Adventure Time, the surrealism of The Cat in the Hat seems somewhat commonplace. With all its puerile humour, adult jokes and satirical silliness, you can’t help but think this is exactly what a contemporary adaptation of The Cat in the Hat would be like if it was released today.
Caring little about the ‘grandeur’ of its source material, The Cat in the Hat is a trippy, hallucinogenic ride that treats the retinas to a flurry of colour and chaos, enough to fixate any child. Bizarre and brightly coloured, the film dumps all pomposity at the door in pursuit of simply having “fun, fun, fun!”.