Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Double Dakota Feature: The Cat in the Hat (2003) & War of the Worlds (2005)

I wasn't expecting The Cat in the Hat to be all that good - and it wasn't - but it wasn't quite as bad as I expected, either. In the beginning, seeing the wacky world of Dr. Seuss brought to life in 3D was actually exciting (I love that all the girls wear dresses with super poofy petticoats). But once the cat showed up, the comedy devolved into slapstick-style shenanigans, which isn't my cup of tea. I regained some interest after some semblance of a plot appeared, but it didn't change the fact that the cat was possibly the weakest aspect of the film.

Now, I'm sure Dr. Seuss was some kind of creative genius, but I haven't dedicated my life to his collected works, so my faith in humanity doesn't hinge on the success or failure of this cinematic adaptation of his story. And it's been many years since I've actually read The Cat in the Hat, so I'm not in the best position to critique the differences between them. But when the cat shows up, he delivers a line that seems to sum up this film's approach, which I suspect is where it deviates from the original book's modus operandi:

"I'm not so good with the rhyming. Not really. No. ...Look, I'm a cat that can talk. That should be enough for you people!"

And at that point, we go from creative wordplay to plain silliness. The cat is played by Mike Myers (the actor, not the bogeyman), and it's probably a testament to his iconic brand of humor (or, depending on your perspective, his poor acting skills) that you can really tell it's him even under all that ridiculous makeup. But while I think Austin Powers is comedic genius, The Cat in the Hat is much less inspiring.

Even so, it is a charming story, if simplistic. I bet most of the flaws can be overlooked by anyone who actually enjoys this particular brand of humor - assuming they're not hung up on the feeling that this movie stains Dr. Seuss' legacy, as many apparently are. And Dakota Fanning is (unsurprisingly) darling as the exceptionally bright little girl with control issues. "Jenny's not my friend anymore. She talked back to me so I ordered her not to speak to me." Ah, Dakota. It's a testament to her charisma that I felt watching a movie of this type was actually worth my time in the end.

I had wanted to pair The Cat in the Hat with Hansel & Gretel, but I couldn't find the latter, so I dug up War of the Worlds instead - in spite of the fact that I had already seen it, back when it first came out. But I decided it would be nice to have a chance to re-evaluate Dakota's performance in the movie, since the first time I watched it, I didn't even know who Dakota Fanning was (hard to believe, I know :p). And besides, it's an entertaining (if not perfect) film adaptation of a truly classic story, so it was exciting to see it again after several years.

I don't know how I overlooked Dakota in this movie before, because her performance is really strong. But I guess there is less opportunity for her natural charisma (and confidence) to shine through when her role dictates that she act like a very frightened little girl. And for once, the epic scale of the movie itself has a tendency to overshadow Dakota's character, so that it becomes more of an alien movie that happens to feature Dakota Fanning than a Dakota Fanning movie that happens to have aliens in it. Nevertheless, amidst all the chaos and the terror - and my suspicion bears out that this is at least as much a horror movie as it is a sci-fi movie - Dakota still manages to make an impression. (Even grimy and covered with dirt, which to me recalls the character of Newt in that other, classic sci-fi/horror/action flick - Aliens.)

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