• Turning a children’s classic into a crass forum for the mildly ribald improvisational stylings of Mike Myers
• Adding all the boner, bat-in-the-crotch, and gonorrhea jokes that the original book apparently lacked, and pointlessly sexing it up with leering shots of Kelly Preston’s cleavage and a Paris Hilton cameo
• Draining Dr. Seuss’ story of all that icky wonder, magic, and lyricism
Defenders: Co-star Alec Baldwin, director Bo Welch
Tone of commentary: Chummy, self-deprecating, and technical. Baldwin and Welch establish a “buddies shooting the shit while knocking back scotch” vibe early on with the following exchange:
Baldwin: Let me just interrupt your discussion of [production designer] Alex McDowell to talk about a thing I admire most in this movie: My Kelly Preston. I just want to say on the air and on the DVD: Kelly. I love you, Kelly.
Welch: We all love you, Kelly. You’re gorgeous, gorgeous. I think it was Mike [Myers] who said, “Yummy mummy.”
Baldwin: Which she is. She’s the winner of the cute-mommy contest.
Baldwin’s sublime whiskey rasp makes just about everything he says sound smutty, and while he and Welch never actually blurt out, “Oh my God, look at Kelly’s amazing tits,” comments like the following make it profoundly easy to read between the lines:
Baldwin: “Even just a glimpse of Kelly’s ankles drives me insane.”
Welch: “The best Kelly shots are coming up at the party. They’re the classics.”
Welch: [During a shot of Preston giving out cupcakes in a cleavage-baring dress.] “Talk about cupcakes.”
Baldwin: “Have I mentioned how good Kelly looks?”
Later, during a scene he plays opposite child actor Spencer Breslin, Baldwin reflects, “I almost wanted to reach down and grab him in an inappropriate way, to get a really pained reaction from him.” He also jokes about Amy Hill, as Mrs. Kwan, the children’s ancient, possibly dementia-addled babysitter, “I had a dream about Miss Kwan. She tied me up and did things to me with her knitting needles.” Is it any wonder that The Cat In The Hat (which was directed by a man allergic to cats) turned out smarmy, mean-spirited, and moderately creepy?
Baldwin frequently sets Welch up, which leads to riveting exchanges like this:
Baldwin: How did you first find out about this project?
Welch: Brian Grazer contacted me and said “So, would you like to direct Cat In The Hat?” and I said “Yes.” Isn’t that a fascinating story?
The commentators implicitly acknowledge that making a film as heavily designed and special-effects-intensive as Cat In The Hat is a remarkable technical achievement, and a negligible creative one.
What went wrong: Myers spent three to five hours in makeup every day, and the children had to be sent home early, so there aren’t a lot of shots of Myers and child actors Spencer Breslin and Dakota Fanning all in the same frame. This is a little distracting, since the story is all about him invading their personal space. A lot of subplots and minor characters were cut. Oh, and it probably didn’t work to the film’s advantage that it came out around the same time as Paris Hilton’s sex tape.
According to Baldwin, Welch only goofed up once: “You don’t let the protagonist in the movie fart… that was the one error you made in the movie.” Later, he amazingly discovers a second error: Baldwin was excited about riding a motorcycle, but audiences never get to see him do any actual riding.
Welch also had to cut Seussian wordplay from the screenplay: “It’s amazing how tedious rhymes become on camera. You get worn out in about three seconds.”
Comments on the cast: Baldwin and Welch heap praise on their child actors. Breslin receives props for his Snagglepuss-like “horizontal lisp,” the New York texture of his voice, and his ability to convey “every shade of neurosis.” Fanning, meanwhile, is depicted as a frighteningly accomplished prodigy who fills Baldwin with awe and jealousy. “She is Mozart and I am Salieri,” quips Baldwin. (Actually, a film about a Baldwin/Fanning rivalry would be far more entertaining than Cat In The Hat.)
Preston is praised for her spectacular mel—er, great beauty and charm. Conspicuous in its absence: any praise for Myers’ scenery-chewing lead performance. The commentators manage to say one or two nice things about Myers, but it’s telling that they spend more time discussing lighting, the aesthetics of farting, and how much they love the film’s talking anthropomorphic fish.
Inevitable dash of pretension: Baldwin: “When I went to the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, this is what we studied, the Seussian comic fracture where you’re slaloming down the slopes of anarchic comedy.”
Commentary in a nutshell: Welch: “See, we addressed the book—at least the cover and the back cover. What happens in between there is not my problem.”