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  • Writer's pictureOli Law

Misunderstood Masterpiece I: The Cat in the Hat

You're wrong and I can prove it

*Not everything you're about to read is 100% accurate. But why let the truth stand in the way of a good blog.

Every few years a film is released which pushes the boundaries of cinema as we know it. Unconventional methods of story-telling propel the medium from what it once was to what it will soon be, leaving a lasting impact on the viewer. The initial response may be confusion, or a refusal to accept a blasphemous change to the art form as it pushes against the grain (as all artists should aspire to do) but as the experience lingers the wave of inspiration has already taken place.

Like 2001: A Space Odyssey before it, Bo Welch’s biblical take on Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat left such an impact that to this day people still argue about its true place in the world and that the movie was and still is way ahead of it’s time.

The year is 2000 and Universal pictures are riding high on the success of How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Jim Carrey. Producer Brian Grazer glazed over the bookshelf looking for his next big masterpiece with the intention to outdo himself. Would it be Green Eggs and Ham? Or One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish? No he needed to go bigger. Gathering dust in the corner was a little book about a large man-sized cat coming in your house, wrecking it and tidying it up again - The Perfect tale.

As soon as he picked up the book, production began immediately. Alec Baldwin was already working on Pearl Harbour at the time but moved his schedule to accommodate a part specifically written for him: the villainous ex-military school neighbour perv: Larry Quinn.

Spencer Beslin signed for Universal on loan in the January transfer window from Disney and Dakota Fanning literally left the womb to fill out the supporting cast but what was missing was the cat himself.

The search was perilous. Whilst initially Tim Allen was in the front running to don the red and white stripes, his childhood fears of the illustrated cat got the better of him and he left the project needing immediate therapy for coming into close contact. The studio sought more feline friendly actors for the role, enlisting both Will Ferrell and Billy Bob Thornton - both of whom had similar breakdowns at the pressure of portraying such an icon. Just when all hope had faded; in steps Mike Myers in full cat costume and character, saving both the project and the time of the costume department.

The hat itself took about 2 years to make, as the prop department had to fit in everything needed in the script - weighing in at 68kg (weight of a standard size anvil). Myers trained with a back brace before shooting commenced and often just balanced the thing without it to fully immerse himself in the role during the more dramatic scenes.

Director Bo Welch (formerly an art director) used his iconic artistic flare in both the visuals of this movie and its direction. When the Universal board asked him what kind of film he was making? - whether it be a musical, period drama or telemarketing product commercial, he simply said yes.

The Cat in the Hat is literally everything by design and by intention. It’s vibrancy is engaging, it’s musical numbers incorporate a sonic smorgasbords of world flavours to represent every nation on earth and the film uniquely spent ten minutes of its runtime advertising a product that it came up with and taught people how to bake. Name one other film that does that… oh sorry that’s right you can’t.

Martin Short spent 6 months living in his bath in preparation for his role as the fish before being told “don’t worry mate, we’re just gonna animate ya”. The animation budget was close to £200 million inciting new methods of water animation for the fishes bowl, which eventually made Avatar: The Way of the Water possible almost 20 years later.

Let us also not forget that the dialogue pushed boundaries like you wouldn’t believe. The introduction of Thing 1 and Thing 2 broke down the construct of identification and left the audience to accept them for who they are rather than what they are (which still remains a mystery to this day) - something we can all learn from in modern society.

Other elements of modern society were questioned throughout the movie, as we see various lifestyle changes hinting at a better tomorrow. Like when the kids and the Cat run through a packed night club in the middle of the day pursued by Baldwin’s terrifying portrayal of Quinn. This simple setting shows the relaxed age limits and nature of its patrons who have the freedom to party whenever they want. The very idea of working life is challenged throughout the movie and thus hints at the reasoning behind: The Cat in the Hat’s negative reception.

With purfect portrayals across the board and a ground-breaking script, The Cat in The Hat was destined for greatness, solidifying the ground-work laid by The Grinch and fimly establishing the M Suess U.

But it was not to be.

Critics and audience members struggled to accept the inclusivity and vast scope of the movie upon release, which as we now know is because they were all just salty. Mike Myers retired from acting and cat costume making having perfected his craft. 2019s Cats attempted to replicate his formula but soon realised they could not escape the uncanny valley as he could.

When the Universal board realised the box office numbers didn’t look pretty enough, they shelved Welch’s plans to make the dark and gritty If I Ran the Zoo and court-marshalled him behind the studio wall as they filmed Love Actually (you can still hear the firing squad in the background). To this day The Cat in the Hat remains a misunderstood masterpiece for what it tried to be and maybe someday we can all accept the brighter world it was trying to show us. One that I could see way back then and hopefully now you can too.

The Cat in the Hat available now on NowTV & Sky Cinema

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