A monthlong series in which Mr. Dossey looks at feline films, fine or otherwise.
The Cat in the Hat was the second of two early-2000s Dr. Seuss adaptations featuring big-name comedians buried under extreme amounts of makeup delivering their shtick and the occasional Seuss-like rhyme. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a blight on Jim Carrey’s resume; Cat is partially responsible for ending Mike Myers’ career. It’s an endless machine gun of colorful visual kitsch, self-satisfied elbow jabs, inappropriate innuendos and somewhat offensive physical comedy. From the moment it starts to the very last frame, it simply cannot shut the fuck up. Few movies are such heinous comedic thought-crimes from concept to completion. Few are so ahead of their time.
Merely a month prior to Cat’s release date in November 2003, a teenager named Timothy Poole started an image board called 4chan. Although it’s now legendary for being a hive of gross perversion and radicalization, 4chan was also on the forefront of developing what we now know as meme culture. Image macros were developed there, as were many mainstream internet jokes — like Caturday, for instance. More importantly, boards like 4Chan introduced a generation of fully online teenagers to the endless content scroll. Constant refreshing to see what new photo there was to save into your meme file for later distribution to friends and internet cohorts. Click refresh for more cats, more macros, more comics, more music, more of anything you can think of. More chemical feedback.
4chan came before Reddit, alongside Livejournal. Before Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok. All the same philosophy, the same addictive scrolling.
Towards the end of Cat’s “narrative” comes a sequence where frustrated kids Conrad (Spencer Breslin) and Sally (Dakota Fanning) are falling into “the mother of all messes,” a quasi-animated world of the Cat’s strange design. Conrad shouts to him — so much shouting in the movie — “What is this?” The Cat replies: “Pure, unadulterated fun without any good sense or judgment.” An apt description of modern entertainment.
Does that make Cat particularly watchable or good? Jury’s out. It’s an autoplay content feed of Mike Myers dressed in a catsuit making adult jokes while helping children misbehave. His testicles are beaten, his tail sliced with a knife and he threatens other versions of himself in scenes that have, in the ensuing decade-and-a-half become memes in their own rights. “I’ll get you,” he says, pointing at himself, “And I’ll make it look like a bloody accident.” Myers turns to the camera and smiles. We laugh. Onto the next bold moment. And on and on. It never ceases, only escalates. You might need a sensory deprivation tank to decompress.
Of course the two leads are children, based off the classic Seuss storybook. Added for story purposes are an overburdened single mom who learns to have fun with her kids (Kelly Preston) and her nasty suitor, Larry (Alec Baldwin). Larry shows up to get beaten up on by the Cat every so often because what story about children learning to be responsible is complete without an adult to squish and smash and slime? Cruelty and malice are to childhood as any other emotion, I guess, particularly when your spirit guide is a terrifying anthropomorphic cat-man. Paris Hilton shows up in a cameo, for what it’s worth. Not much anymore.
The endless assault on good taste is unceasing. Sitting down to watch Cat is like cinematic Stockholm Syndrome. I grew to love and adore it. There are many movies just like it, before and since, but the blend of cute, classic children’s-story icon and utter irreverence gives it a unique flavor. This isn’t like Garfield: The Movie, where the hero makes fun of the everyman. The Cat attacks everything without reason (or, strangely given its source material, much rhyme). A cooking show. Tennis. Car design. Office life. Furniture. Kids games. Lawn tools. Hippies. There’s something for everyone, here. Too much for any one viewer. No good sense or judgment. No honesty.
I know I should turn it off, but I can’t stop. I’ve spent the last 20 years looking at dumb bullshit on the internet every single chance I get. Haven’t we all? A relaxing night is one spent in front of a screen, scrolling. We send images to friends to approximate companionship. Rampant nostalgia for yesterday. The Cat understood it. The movie captures it — a fuzzy, monstrous flare portending an entire civilization’s forthcoming psychological debasement. Inject it into my veins.