Doctor Seuss is the opposite of the tradition of lovable hedgerow creatures, talking pets and mildly rebellious schoolboys in British literature for young kids. He’s a neurotic A. A. Milne, an uptight Kenneth Grahame. There’s nothing sunny or light-hearted about Seuss. All those dark, placeless landscapes and stringy, demented characters of indeterminate sex (and species) are straight from a Freudian case study. This is prickly mid-twentieth century angst, about as cuddly as an ironing board.
The latest Seuss movie is excellent – Myers is a superb Cat, art direction and photography translate Seuss-land into a properly nightmarish pastel suburbia and the gags are good – but there’s a nasty normative thing going on here – something I don’t remember from the book. The movie’s pay-off is essentially a ‘Cuckoo’s Nest‘-style reprogramming for Sally and Conrad (the bored kids horrified and entertained by the Cat and his sidekicks-from-the-subconscious Thing 1 and Thing 2) – only without the electric shocks.
The Cat’s loopy, irresponsible behaviour doesn’t set the kids free, loosen the bonds of convention, show them how to have fun or any of that child-centred stuff. Quite the opposite – it translates Sally and Conrad – ‘control freak’ and ‘rule breaker’ respectively, according to the Cat’s ‘phun-o-meter’ – into a matched pair of smiling Stepford kids with a phun-o-meter reading of ‘just right’. This Cat is a nasty surrogate dad for the Bush era. Pity.
Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian doesn’t like The Cat and says so in verse. What Doctor Seuss Really Taught Us – a lovely piece by Louis Menand from The New Yorker about The Cat as Cold Warrior – “The mother has left, and she’s never coming back. It’s just us and that goddam cat.”.