This film upset me on a very personal level
ABOVE: He knows what he did [credit: DVD cover]
On the 2nd of April, 2004, The Cat in the Hat was released in the United Kingdom. It was a box office flop, and received overwhelmingly negative critical reviews. On the 12th of August, 2020, my housemate Katie and I spent a calm summer evening enjoying a completely normal tobacco cigarette which had absolutely no effect on our reasoning skills. I wholeheartedly believe that had it not been for that completely normal tobacco cigarette, our better judgement would have kicked in and we would have chosen a different, altogether more pleasant and satisfying film. I had not seen The Cat in the Hat before. By God, have I seen it now.
The Cat in the Hat was directed by Bo Welch and developed as a screenplay by Alec Berg, along with David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer, and I often ponder, privately, if these men actually have the capacity to feel shame. Alec Berg is credited as a writer for both Seinfeld (1994 – 1998) and Late Night with Conan O’Brien (1998 – 2009), which further confirms that there is indefinite truth in the saying “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” This is a film that caused the widow of Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) to pursue the legal change that now forbids any subsequent live-action remakes of her late husband’s work. It won a number of awards, including:
- ‘Worst Excuse for an Actual Movie’
- ‘Worst Screenplay for a Film Grossing More than $100 Million Using Hollywood Math’
- ‘Most Annoying Non-Human Character’
- ‘The Spencer Breslin Award for Worst Performance by a Child’
In short, it is a masterpiece in chaos. But there was something about Welch’s creation that clung to me after the credits rolled. Try as I might to rid myself of this feeling, it continued to wake me from restless slumber, my skin slick in a cold sweat— jarred into consciousness by the metaphorical lick of a barbed tongue to the brain— and my obsession would not leave me. I was deeply unsettled. I remain deeply unsettled by the cosmic implications of The Cat in the Hat.
Before we delve into my full analysis, let me make something clear: I know that this film is meant to be hyperbolic, unrealistic, and fantastical. I grew up on Dr. Seuss books myself, and I am very familiar with the type of mystical universe that these stories exist within. But The Cat in the Hat contains so many adult jokes and references which go over the heads of a young audience that I can’t help but take the whole thing very seriously. Furthermore, the source material does not present any of the same horrors that The Cat in the Hat forces upon us (let’s quickly revise what exactly the original The Cat can actually do: he can balance more things at once than the average human being, he owns the box that contains Thing One and Thing Two, and he has a cleaning up machine. That’s it. Keep this in mind). The makers of this film knew what they were doing, and they have forced my hand. I am merely playing along with their game.
The Cat in the Hat (2003)
Before The Cat shows up, the plot is very simple: Conrad (Spencer Breslin) and Sally (Dakota Fanning) live with their single mother, Joan (Kelly Preston), who is dating their next door neighbour, Larry (Alec Baldwin). As a strange sub-plot, Larry’s apparent life goal is to send Conrad to a military school— his motivations for this are never explained. Joan is a real estate agent and works for a neat-freak boss, so when she has to host an office party at the family home, she tells the children to keep it clean. There’s also a babysitter called Mrs. Kwan (Amy Hill) who falls asleep as soon as she arrives at the house. Bored, Conrad and Sally sit, staring out of the window as it rains outside.
Enter The Cat: six foot tall, spluttering a wheezy laugh at the end of every sentence, and played by Mike Myers. We are introduced to his time-and-space defying abilities immediately, when he materialises out of thin air in front of the kids. He continues to do this, following Sally and Conrad through walls and closed doors, despite their petrified screams. When The Cat is in the cupboard with them, he also creates a small light source with a cord. Later in the film, he produces other objects at will, and even manages to manifest fully autonomous doubles of himself, as seen when he creates a fake cooking show of which a second ‘The Cat’ is the host, who the original The Cat promptly threatens to murder and make “look like an accident”. The Cat is also lactose intolerant, which means his physical form is an actual, functioning body, and not just a shell to hide some mind-bending, unseeable Lovecraftian entity. He has organs, and exists physically in the world, suggesting that at the very least, The Cat’s vessel could be killed. But the film does not allow us to bask in the comfort of this idea for long. The Cat sees a photograph of Joan and expresses sexual attraction, upon which his top hat extends in a phallic manner. Taking his lack of clothing and apparent lack of genitalia into account, this forces some uncomfortable questions: Is the top hat equivalent to a penis? How would The Cat go about reproducing? Reader, I ask you to consider what I have been made to: does The Cat in the Hat fuck?
It’s been less than ten minutes, and we already know that this creature can teleport to any location, manifest objects, create sentient life, and make sex jokes. Horrifying.
The Cat shows off his cognitive prowess for the first time by measuring the children’s characters: Sally turns out to be a control freak, while Conrad is revealed to be a rule breaker. From an audience’s perspective, these are accurate judgements, making it undeniable that The Cat has at least some omniscience, either at his own direct disposal or through the strange equipment he can materialise whenever he needs. In terms of physical ability, he absentmindedly throws Sally across the room with a simple brush of his tail, suggesting that he has a huge amount of strength at his disposal. Things get a little confusing, however, when the fish is introduced. Sally exclaims, “The fish is talking?!” while Conrad matches her shock. There are two explanations to this phenomena: either the fish could always talk, and had resigned himself to a life of mutism, only to abandon his monk-like oath because of the sheer terror of The Cat, or The Cat’s inconceivable power granted this entirely normal fish the miracle of speech just by being nearby.
In a further attempt to convince the children to trust him, The Cat then opens a cosmic doorway to a bull-fighting ring and narrowly avoids a live bull getting through the threshold. Thus, we learn that The Cat can control portals. Disturbingly, we do not know if these are portals to alternate universes, or if The Cat creates fully-formed realities at his every whim, only to destroy them when the bit is over. On top of these impressive celestial abilities, The Cat has an ego: he is desperate for Sally and Conrad to be entertained by him, and uses reverse psychology to get them to ask him to stay. At this point in the film, we can assume that he is, at the very least, a potent demigod with a desperate need for attention.
The Cat now brings in the infamous crate, and introduces Thing One and Thing Two: small, blue-haired, snout-faced imps of madness who speak their own language and are not limited to our laws of gravity. Conrad gets let in on some of The Cat’s lore: he says that the crate is a ‘transdimensional trasporter-lator’ and connects ‘[his] world’ to that of the children, so, suspicions confirmed, The Cat is an alien. More importantly, it means that he comes from a separate world of his own, which implies the potential existence of an entire race of other The Cats. Returning to the issue of the crate, The Cat describes it as ‘leaking’, which we see for ourselves when the Things are left in charge. Blobs of purple goo float out of the box, while impossible staircases and strikes of lightning occupy the infinite space inside.
Side note: this is also when a bunch of children beat the absolute shit out of The Cat, and it is the only enjoyable moment of the entire movie.
Once the crate is opened and the ‘mother of all messes’ has finally happened, reality is utterly warped, confirming that The Cat is directly in control of the very fabric of the space/time continuum. During the sequence where Conrad closes the crate, reinstating the house to its normal state, there is a scene where Larry, having previously fallen into the endless ethereal abyss, is ejected from the building via drainpipe. Seeing regular-human-being-sized Alec Baldwin get shat out by a small tube while covered in slime is, without a doubt, the most sobering thing I have ever seen. Any buzz I may have felt from the completely normal tobacco cigarette was now firmly harshed. The emotional climax of the story sees Conrad and Sally make their peace with sharing the blame for the mess, which cues The Cat and the Things to ride in with many-armed cleaning-up machines. They restore the house while Joan pulls up in the driveway, and The Cat escapes with a shrunken-down version of the crate just in time. Joan’s party is a success, and her faith in her children is restored. The ending of the film is a happy one, although it should be added that the experience does clearly leave deep psychological scars on Larry.
It is now, while the audience bask in the false hope of the film being over, that we are witness to The Cat’s true existence. What we had seen of him until now was merely a diluted version. In his final moment onscreen, it is revealed that The Cat was the voiceover throughout the entire story, and his looks into camera have not just been poor direction: he is completely aware that he is in a movie. His breaking of the fourth wall suggests that he cannot be bound even by the limits of fiction.
Before we continue onto the conclusion, here are some other, potentially useless, but nonetheless mystifying, observations:
- The Cat has a team of what can only be described as space lawyers— meaning there is at least some social concept that binds him to legal contracts, and that The Cat has been sued before.
- The Cat can drive.
- The Cat gets hairballs, which must mean he cleans himself using his tongue at least semi-regularly.
- The Cat tries to fuck Paris Hilton, and she doesn’t even seem that mad about it.
- The Cat throws up twice.
The Cat from The Cat in the Hat is a terrifyingly powerful alien. He can manipulate reality, and births living creatures as quickly as he snaps them out of existence. Space and time are merely matter through which he bathes. He can travel between different dimensions and worlds, and no panic room or prison cell would stand a chance at containing or escaping him. The Cat in the Hat has a very specific spiritual message: not only is there a God, but He is a simple, narcissistic creature, who acts upon every whim and somehow still gets horny despite being neutered. In many ways, The Cat in the Hat is a contemporary piece of nihilistic philosophy, critiquing the social realities we have constructed for ourselves in a desperate bid to feign control over a truly chaotic universe. But in just as many ways, it is a stupid, badly-written, poorly-judged film, and I have too much time on my hands. You decide.
Sourced used include The Cat in the Hat (2003) by Bo Welch, Movie Monday: The Cat in the Hat by Chris Thomas.
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1 thought on “The Cosmic Implications of The Cat in the Hat (2003)”
I still have trauma from watching this as a four-year old. This gave me flashbacks I never asked for :’D
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