Review: "The Cat in the Hat" Deluxe Edition Blu-ray Not Much Fun for a Rainy Day
Back in June, I had many kind words for the program and few for the Blu-ray of Green Eggs and Ham. The situation is somewhat reversed for the latest Dr. Seuss Deluxe Edition for The Cat in the Hat: my major gripe that the earlier disc was far too short has been addressed quite nicely for this new release, but unfortunately I can’t find a lot to adore about the three animated specials on the disc.
I remembered surprisingly little of The Cat in the Hat when I sat down with this Blu-ray, other than that I read the book and watched the show religiously as a young lad. I recalled the Cat and his helpers Thing 1 and Thing 2 creating havoc in the house of Nick and Sally before cleaning up the mess before their mother comes home, but much of what happened in between start and finish was a blank. My clearly remembered affection for the work as a child made it all the more surprising when I didn’t much like it as an adult. This 1971 TV special was the first animated by DePatie-Freleng Productions, and while the animation is quite appealing, I thought the special felt padded and the lead character came off as much less likeable than I remembered him. Glancing back at the original book revealed that the TV special shares surprisingly little with the source material. In the book, the cat feels more like a freewheeling agent of anarchy who causes trouble by accident and feels genuine remorse when he goes a step too far. In the special, he comes off as a slightly smarmy, unpleasant jerk, manipulating his way back into the house by accusing the house fish of stealing his moss-covered, three-handled family gredunza, and using the search for it as a pretense to turn the house inside out just for kicks. Much of the dialogue is altered or padded with a few musical numbers, with a lot of the additional dialogue losing the trademark Seussian rhyme (even though Seuss himself is credited with the teleplay) and only the song on how to say “cat” and “hat” in multiple languages having any real staying power. It might be that I’ve gotten too accustomed to the much more benign character in PBS Kids’ The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, but after revisiting this beloved childhood special, I think I’d rather stick with the book.
The Cat in the Hat runs a full 20-minutes (turning into a half-hour with commercials), and the special has gotten a cleaning and remastering for release in high-definition. The full-frame image looks clear and bright without losing the slight film grain in the image. There are even times where you can freeze the image and just barely make out the animtion cels, which isn’t as jarring as it has been on Blu-rays like Disney’s Snow White or A Charlie Brown Christmas. The Blu-ray also comes with a Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack, presumably the same as the original broadcast, but keeps both dialogue and music clear and bright. The bonus features on this disc are one sing-along version of the title show and two more half-hour Seuss specials, which pad out the 20+ minute running time on the box to a little more than a full hour. Unfortunately, those two extra TV specials are Daisy-Head Mayzie and The Hoober-Bloob Highway, and revisiting them on this disc reveals why neither has achieved the same iconic status in pop culture as specials like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Green Eggs and Ham, or the original Horton Hears a Who!
Daisy-Head Mayzie was the first Seuss work published posthumously, and I can’t help but think it might have been better to leave it where it lay. The title character has a daisy sprout from her head one day, leading to an unwelcome celebrity and teasing until a slimy agent turns her into a star. The ending puts Mayzie right back where she started. The special is pretty blah, lacking the usual lyrical Seuss panache in the dialogue, and lugging along a muddled message that lands with a rather loud thud. The animation was also done by Hanna-Barbera and Tony Collingwood Productions, and looks visibly worse than the work on the DePatie-Freleng specials. The appearance is not helped by the standard-definition transfer on the disc that looks simply awful when upscaled to high-def. Thankfully, Collingwood has shown he has more Seussian chops with his work directing The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! The Hoober-Bloob Highway is another hopelessly muddled special, centering on one Mr. Hoober-Bloob who packages up babies and sends them down to Earth on his eponymous highway. I have to admit he’s a pretty rotten salesman, making life on Earth sound about as unappetizing as he can, and his sour outlook on life expressed in his upbeat tone strike a highly discordant note that pervades the whole special. At least the production was managed by DePatie-Freleng again, so the animation is better even if the un-remastered standard-definition transfer doesn’t do it many favors. Seuss would delve into the vicissitudes of life more fruitfully in Oh the Places You’ll Go!, and I wouldn’t mind someone taking a good animated swing at that title someday.
For what it’s worth, the combo pack also tucks a DVD version in the package with the same contents.
I’m glad Warner Home Video addressed the frequent criticisms of The Lorax and Green Eggs and Ham Deluxe Edition Blu-rays by adding some more material on this disc. Unfortunately, pleasant childhood memories of the original special were revealed mostly as rose-tinted nostalgia and the other extras were underwhelming as well. The Cat in the Hat Deluxe Edition Blu-ray is interesting from a historical perspective, but remains underwhelming as entertainment.