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Cat in the Hat

There was a time when kids' movies, almost invariably by Disney, only appeared at the theater a few times a year. Well, things certainly have changed. In the last month, four different children's movies from four different major studios have had nationwide releases; Brother Bear, Looney Tunes, Elf and now The Cat in the Hat. Though often expensive to produce, these movies are also less risky because the child demographic is automatically targeted, and for every child that attends, there are the accompanying parents. Buoyed by the runaway success of films like Finding Nemo, studios are hurrying to capitalize on the huge dollar potential of this market.

As in the beloved Dr. Seuss tale, Conrad and Sally Walden find themselves in the imaginary town of Anville sitting in their home on a rainy day. Their mother, Joan (Kelly Preston) is hosting a party for her anal-retentive boss Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) who has promised to fire her if the house is anything short of immaculate. When called back to work, Joan is forced to leave the kids with the narcoleptic babysitter Mrs. Kwan. And once the kids are left unsupervised, a mischievous cat arrives determined to counsel them on the art of ̉phunÓ. However, lurking next door is the evil Larry Quinn (Alec Baldwin) who is anxious to find a reason to ship Conrad off to military school so he can wed Joan. Certainly, the details do not mesh exactly with the plot of book but overall the movie is faithful to its spirit.

Befitting a mythical town, Anville is given a look all its own. The Walden house is painted lavender and covered with an electric blue roof, while the interior is filled with IKEA-esque decorations brushed in lime and canary yellow. Even Anville residents come clothed in a signature pastel color. However, the cat is adorned in the familiar red bowtie and striped hat, though the camera seems to have added the dreaded fifteen pounds, as he is considerably more portly on the screen than in hardcover.

Hollywood has always been guilty of being formulaic, which is understandable since upwards of 100-million dollars is poured into nearly every picture. Brian Grazer, who also produced How the Grinch Stole Christmas, utilizes the same basic setup here with The Cat in the Hat. Dakota Fanning and Spencer Breslin are both effective playing the children, but function more as devices (princess, troublemaker) than characters. The key component is finding a lead charismatic enough to carry the film. Grinch had Jim Carrey. Cat gets Mike Myers.

In reality, Cat really functions as a backdrop for Myers' comedy routine. Often, it is unclear what material is supplied by the script and what is him just being himself. After all, everything from the way he flails his arms while scurrying around to his witty repartee- frequently with his alter egos- seem innately his own.

There is nothing particularly innovative about The Cat in the Hat, but it provides laughs for people of all ages, all the while looking pretty on screen. Though similar to Grinch, Cat improves on it by employing a jovial tone more suitable for a Dr. Seuss fable. If, and it likely will, it surpasses the success of its predecessor, a third installment (Green Eggs and Ham!) of the series will follow not before long.