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Review: 'Cat in the Hat' weak and flat

Colorful film makes muffled splat

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Mike Myers plays the Cat in the Hat, who shows two children how to have fun.

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Mike Myers
Dr. Seuss

(CNN) -- "Dr. Seuss' The Cat In The Hat" is an eye-popping visual experience, but it's a struggle turning a thin wisp of a book -- just 223 words -- into an 84-minute movie that can hold the attention of anyone over the age of 5 or 6.

Mike Myers is great in the title role, but even this master of physical comedy struggles mightily to fill out this one-dimensional character.

"The Cat In The Hat" boasts the same production team who brought us "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," but there was a whole lot more to that book's story. The best thing about this production is the scenic design -- not surprising, as this is the directorial debut of Bo Welch, the production designer on such movies as "Men In Black" and "Edward Scissorhands."

Since there was little actual story provided by Theodor S. Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), the filmmakers had to invent one. After all, the 1957 book was just supposed to be a primer for first-graders, using a handful of vocabulary words -- not a compelling piece of fiction.

Character sketches

In the book, you only see the Mom's legs in the book's illustrations. Kelly Preston, who plays Mom in the film, has a great set of gams, but the character is fleshed out, complete with a full body and a job as a real estate agent. The kids also get a baby sitter in the film, played by Amy Hill.

Sean Hayes makes an appearance as Mom's germ-phobic boss, Mr. Humberfloob, and the plot involves Mom throwing the company's annual holiday party at her home. Alec Baldwin also has a supporting role as the family's sleazy neighbor, who has designs on the Preston's character.

As in the book, the children (along with the Cat) are the principal characters. Spencer Breslin plays Conrad, who constantly breaks the rules; Dakota Fanning plays his sister Sally, a total control freak and Little Miss Goody Two Shoes. They both need a lesson or two about having fun, and the Cat is determined to guide them into mayhem.

Disasters and lessons

Cat in the Hat
The film's production design is eye-catching, but there isn't much there there.

The best part of the film is the talking goldfish (voiced by Hayes), who delivers some of the classic lines from the book. He's the voice of reason when Mom is suddenly called into work and sharply warns the kids not to mess up the house before the big party. The moment she leaves, the baby-sitter falls asleep -- and the Cat shows up out of the blue.

After numerous disasters orchestrated by the Cat, involving tons of purple goo, the house is completely destroyed. And that's pretty much it. Not much for a movie.

In the end, the kids learn their lessons: Sally lets go of control and learns how to be spontaneous, and Conrad discovers the importance of following rules. Great lessons for a 5- or 6-year-old. Come to think of it, those are good lessons for Saddam Hussein; a pity Dr. Seuss probably wasn't too big in Iraq in the '50s.

But I digress.

As a film, "The Cat in the Hat" isn't much, really. It's perfect for parents looking for harmless entertainment to keep the young ones engaged during the holidays, but less than perfect for anyone else.

"Dr. Seuss' The Cat In The Hat" opens nationwide on Friday, November 21, and is rated PG.

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