Originally created 11/24/03

Filmmakers unleashed Mike Myers on 'The Cat in the Hat'



LOS ANGELES -- You don't put a leash on a cat.

That was the philosophy the filmmakers followed to transform the simple whimsy of "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" into a candy-colored, in-your-face comedy starring Mike Myers as the mischievous feline in a towering red-and-white cap.

Director Bo Welch said Myers designed the character himself, which meant ad-libbing jokes in an "Amazing Discoveries" infomercial parody, writing gags for his own independent-minded tail and contriving a voice.

"We agreed it would be a live-action cartoon, and talked about the sound," Welch said. "Everyone thinks they know what the Cat in the Hat should sound like, but no one has ever heard him."

The Myers performance suggests the Cat hails from New York, with a laid-back version of the urban Jewish accent he used playing Linda Richman in the "Saturday Night Live" sketch "Coffee Talk" (or "Cawwfee Tawwk," as she pronounced it).

Other influences on the voice include the late director Bruce Paltrow - father of Gwyneth. There's a little bit of the fussy comedian Charles Nelson Reilly under that hat, too - plus some Burt Lahr, who played another famous cat: the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz."

"It's that comforting, New York, 'don't worry' feeling," Welch said. "He wanted it to be like hearing your New York doctor say, 'Oh relax ... you'll be fine."'

(Myers, who balks at all print interviews, refused to speak to The Associated Press.)

Apart from casting the lead, the filmmakers said they needed to craft a broader story.

There's no denying the 1957 tale is one tough tome to turn into a feature film: it's about two bored kids who learn how to have responsible fun on a rainy day, and has various plot holes - in its 61 pages of rhyme and drawings the girl's name is mentioned (Sally) but not the boy's.

It was made into a television cartoon in 1971, but that was barely a half-hour. Producer Brian Grazer wanted something that could last roughly an hour and a half.

But the book by Theodor Geisel, who won a Pulitzer Prize writing under the moniker Dr. Seuss, is treasured by millions, and tinkering with its story is akin to challenging the childhood nostalgia of three generations.

The adjustments worked for most people in 2000, when Ron Howard directed Jim Carrey in "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which added pop-culture jokes, a history about the Grinch's childhood and subplots about the Whoville residents.

Some Seuss purists regarded that movie as crass, but it was a hit: earning $260 million domestically and becoming the year's highest-grossing movie.

Grazer, who also produced "The Grinch," sought to follow that movie's formula. He hired a team of three writers to adapt "Cat": Jeff Schaffer, Alec Berg and David Mandel, all former "Seinfeld" scribes who worked together on an uncredited rewrite of "The Grinch."

"We pitched it almost as a kid's version of 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off,"' Mandel said. "The book is a very perfect beginning, middle and end. We used it as a skeleton: Mom has to go out, kids are left home, cat comes to visit, house gets messed up, they kick out the cat, they clean it up, and get everything done before mom comes home."

The first step was giving the boy a name: Conrad.

Then they had to give the kids distinct personalities.

Conrad, played by Spencer Breslin, is a messy troublemaker who needs to learn responsibility, while his sister (Dakota Fanning) is an uptight goody-two-shoes who needs to loosen up.

Then the writers decided to get the cat and kids out of the house and into the neighborhood, where the furry star is mistaken for a pinata at a children's birthday party, and drives around the streets in the part-boat, part-airplane, part-jalopy Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Watchamajigger.

"You didn't want people sitting in their seats in a theater watching people sitting bored in the house," Schaffer said.

Most additions were made out of necessity, they said. Does mom (Kelly Preston) really leave the kids all alone for the day? That's what happens in the book.

The writers, fearing this might worry the audience, created a baby sitter: the deep, deep, deep sleeper Miss Kwan.

And for the sake of plot, why is it so important to keep the house immaculately clean?

Enter Mr. Humberfloob ("Will & Grace" co-star Sean Hayes). He is mom's obsessively fastidious boss who is coming over that evening for a dinner party and fires anyone who isn't neat. Hayes also voices the story's computer-animated goldfish, who in the Seuss book is the voice of caution and restraint.

There is also a smattering of borderline raunchy humor, which is why "The Cat in the Hat" is rated PG instead of G. (At one point The Cat picks up a particular kind of muddy garden tool and sneers: "Dirty hoe ...")

Welch said there are only a few of those kinds of jokes in the movie, and they are expected to fly over the heads of little ones.

Once the script was in place, construction began on replicating Seuss illustrations in the real world.

"He had a very sinuous line and drew very elegant curves that always came to slender points," said Alex McDowell, the production designer who created the film's neighborhood of identical violet houses and gravity-defying trees.

The set was built on a hillside in California's Simi Valley and reportedly alarmed residents who feared the garish housing development was for real.

"There's always something a little bit odd or twisted about this world. It's an apparently colorful and attractive world, but it's very repetitive," McDowell said. "So the kids are completely bored in this nightmare of suburbia because all people dressed the same and every car is identical - that allows the Cat to come in and disrupt all that."

When it came to building a costume for Myers, however, makeup artist Steve Johnson said there was no way to replicate Seuss' drawing of the spaghetti-limbed feline.

He did about 30 makeup tests on Myers and built several full-body suits covered with black and white yak hair, human hair and synthetic fibers. It was so hot that the interior had to be lined with tubes that could flow ice water during breaks between shots.

Ultimately, the filmmakers decided to take a minimalist approach on the facial makeup, leaving Myers' real eyebrows and mouth exposed, while covering his nose and parts of his cheeks. Around that, they constructed a giant cat head with remote-control ears and heavy magnets to grip the various off-kilter caps.

Carrey's makeup in "The Grinch" hid his face much more, but Johnson said that wouldn't have worked in this movie.

"Kids are pretty much afraid of the Grinch, but you want them to like the Cat," he said. "Because, if you think about it, this is just a home-invasion story about a giant crazy cat who barges into the house and wrecks the place."

Since he expects box-office success, and Grazer already has his writers working on a sequel.

"The sad thing is we took some things from 'The Cat in the Hat Comes Back' and now we have to write that," screenwriter Berg said. "There's not much left in that one other than the title now."

Facts and figures from the making of the new movie adaptation of Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat":

Pages in original 1957 book: 61.

Writers to adapt book into screenplay: 3.

Minutes in final film: 82.

Purple houses constructed for Seuss neighborhood: 24.

Gallons of lilac paint used: 500.

Acres of land landscaped for neighborhood: 18.

Miles of fence built: 1.

Gallons of water used to keep sod and plants green during production: 7 million.

Miles of pencil steel used to create loopy-style trees and shrubs: 12.

Number of fur cat suits for star Mike Myers and stunt doubles: 5.

Makeup tests to perfect cat's facial features: 30.

Detachable animatronic tails for cat suit: 12.

Hours to get dressed as cat: 2.5.

Storefronts in Pomona, Calif., decorated for town scenes: 24.

Cubic feet of foam used to create cartoonish store facades: 60,000.

Total actors, gymnasts and voice perfomers playing Thing 1 and Thing 2: 9.