Paw Things: how a year of watching The Cat in the Hat prepared a Letterboxd couple for life together

Oh, yeah! It’s the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (2003).
Oh, yeah! It’s the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (2003).

On the twentieth anniversary of the 2003 live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, we meet the nostalgia-loving Letterboxd couple keeping the manic movie out of the bulging box.

People love bad things sometimes.

—⁠Sophie

In a valley that stretches from this hill to that hill, a city is nestled, that city is… Hollywood. After Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka beloved children’s author and cartoonist Dr. Seuss, passed away in 1991, his widow Audrey Geisel was left in control of his estate. By 1998, her agents persuaded her to sell the film rights to How the Grinch Stole Christmas (once adapted as the popular animated TV special in 1966), with the opportunity landing in the lucrative hands of Ron Howard and Jim Carrey.

Despite a mixed response from film critics and Audrey herself, the film went on to become one of the highest grossing of 2000 and earned Rick Baker his sixth Academy Award for makeup design. The stars were aligned for the next Dr. Seuss live-action adaptation. What could go wrong? And ‘what could go wrong?’ was more-or-less the motto of Mike Myers’s take on The Cat in the Hat, helmed by noted production designer Bo Welch in his first—and last—turn in the director’s chair. 

Its production was catastrophic, primarily due to Myers’s erratic on-set behavior, and the response was even worse. Audiences screamed and ran from this grotesque vision of the Cat and its fever dream mother-of-all-messes plot—a story padded out from the brief escapade of the original book—making it a target for the Razzies and a last straw for Ms. Geisel, as she put her foot down on further live-action adaptations. We’ve only seen Dr. Seuss in animated form since.

The cat that could not be tamed: Mike Myers is The Cat in the Hat.
The cat that could not be tamed: Mike Myers is The Cat in the Hat.

I believe wholeheartedly that nostalgia is one of the most powerful elements that make up this stupid little universe that all of us share.

—⁠Caleb

Twenty years on, however, a different story is emerging. The Cat in the Hat may not have been parent-friendly, but it was kid-friendly in ways studios did not anticipate in 2003—this big kid included—with a weirder niche of younger audiences vibing with its colorful gooey world, the irreverence of Cat’s crude ’tude, and the bond of the Walden siblings at its core, Conrad (Spencer Breslin) and Sally (Dakota Fanning). Now we’ve matured and taken the movie with us into our young adulthood, we can boldly conclude that it remains fun to have fun.

Could that be giving the film too much credit? Perhaps. It’s one of our most divisive films of all-time, currently sitting at a 2.5-out-of-five star average on Letterboxd—but 12 percent of those ratings are at five stars and it’s one of only a handful of films rated below three stars with more than a thousand fans. Maybe the love we see on Letterboxd is purely ironic—witness its litany of gag reviews—and yet, we’re in the post-ironic era where that can translate into a genuine love. As Tyler Tompkins sincerely reflects on a revisit: “Even funnier as an adult. … Soooo ahead of its time. We’ll never see anything like it again.”

Allow me to introduce you to the Conrad and Sally of Letterboxd: Caleb and Sophie. The 23-year-olds are not the biggest fans of the movie, but shortly after moving into their Portland apartment together last August, a spur-of-the-moment decision by Caleb to introduce Sophie to a childhood fave turned into a year-long mission to convene together and recreate the experience. They watched The Cat in the Hat once a week, every week, even roping a few friends and family into the mischief. For our couple, the ritual became an essential masochistic refuge at the dawn of their adulthood.

They’re not the first to watch The Cat in the Hat at least 52 times—we’re in kid-movie territory here, and I certainly burnt out my own white-and-blue tape—but we can confirm that they’re the first of our members to voluntarily watch The Cat in the Hat 52 times as so-called grown-ups. We caught up with the pair to talk about their journey together and how they documented it through Letterboxd reviews, including Caleb’s revelation, in his most meditative viewing during watch number 41: “Maybe this was the point of us watching the movie this many times? It never changes, but I do.”

Anything better to do on a rainy day than watch The Cat in the Hat (2003) again? …Anything?
Anything better to do on a rainy day than watch The Cat in the Hat (2003) again? …Anything?

Why? Just, why?
Sophie: Caleb suggested it, and I figured it wouldn’t be that bad! I was so so wrong. 

Caleb: I fully believe in the subjective nature of film enjoyment, and my main hypothesis regarding movies is that the actual content of a movie is equally as important to the experience as a viewer’s headspace, environment, and mood. I’m a huge fan of a podcast, The Worst Idea of All Time, in which two New Zealanders watch a movie once a week for a year and chart their mental deterioration. I figured it may be fun to take a movie that I watched religiously as a child and test if my enjoyment of it would change weekly. I’m a serial rewatcher of a lot of movies: how would my experience be affected if I was forced to do it regularly and document the process?

What was your preferred method to watch the film and how did you coordinate your viewings together every week?
Caleb: Funnily enough, my favorite method of watching was on VHS. We’re avid tape collectors and it’s our preferred method of watching most movies together. 

The Portland household’s VHS collection. — Credit… Caleb Libbey
The Portland household’s VHS collection. Credit… Caleb Libbey

Sophie: The lower the quality, the better. VHS watches were the least painful because I couldn’t see the individual teeth in the fish’s mouth anymore. Sometimes we would plan our watch ahead of time, decide on where we want to watch and what method, but sometimes it was Saturday afternoon and we had to clear the rest of our day because we forgot to watch it that week. 

What did your friends and family think of the project?
Caleb: To be honest, I don’t think most of my family knows that I underwent this adventure, though friends began to label us as “The Cat in The Hat guys” whenever we met new people. Since we were very new to the city during the infancy of this project, this is the first impression we left on most new peers… it was like being marked with the Scarlet Letter, except you get the ability to quote most of a pretty bad Mike Myers movie…

Sophie: It became a fun fact about us and something that everyone was fascinated by. It was a great conversation starter. 

Top: POV of the movie. Bottom: POV of our rewatchers on a field trip. — Credit… Sophie Baker
Top: POV of the movie. Bottom: POV of our rewatchers on a field trip. Credit… Sophie Baker

Was there a point when you considered giving up? 
Caleb: I think every time we watched it we thought about giving up. There’s plenty of documentation in our reviews regarding how we kept it fresh, including watching it in public in bars, watching it on many screens at once, and syncing it up with the Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of The Moon. That last one was nearly a religious experience.

Sophie: I would have loved to give up, but the thing that kept me going was that even if I stopped, Caleb would have finished out the 52 watches or vice versa. We were in it together and had to tough through it together. 

Not to shill like Cat in a memorable fourth wall break, but have you guys been to a Universal Studios theme park yet?
Sophie: I went to Universal and rode The Cat in the Hat ride before I had ever even seen the movie. The ride was not nearly as exciting as the one Sally and Conrad get to go on, pretty disappointing. 

Caleb: I’ve never been to Universal! But I’ll personally send Letterboxd my address if you guys are offering to dress us up in some Thing 1 and Thing 2 swag…

Where are you Christmas? We found it in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000).
Where are you Christmas? We found it in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000).

What was your relationship with Dr. Seuss before this?
Sophie: I had actually never seen The Cat in the Hat until our first watch. I think that’s partly why I agreed to this so easily—I had no idea what I was getting myself into. 

Caleb: Like you, this film was always a childhood favorite of mine, and only when rewatching in 2020 did I realize how truly awful it is. Grueling, even. And yet I still decided to give a year of it a shot. The live-action Grinch however… sublime. Baby Grinch gets me every time.

Sophie: The Grinch is leagues better than The Cat. They should’ve ended the live-action adaptations there. 

What’s your favorite detail in the original story? Is there anything you can give the movie credit for getting right in terms of an adaptation?
Caleb: Something really funny about this whole ordeal is that I genuinely can’t remember ever reading the book. Kind of embarrassing on my part. I do remember the original animated special from the 1970s with Allan Sherman, and that thing is a masterpiece. Mike Myers does a very subtle impression of his voice at times, which is cool!

Sophie: Truly, I don’t think I’ve read the book since I was a baby, and at this point any beauty in it is tainted. Reading it right now, I will say that it’s impressive how close the narration and songs stick to the original text. 

You’ve rated the movie in many different ways based on the subjective experience. What’s your actual rating?
Sophie: I think probably a three for me. I’m pretty easily amused and a sucker for Mike Myers.

Caleb: Solid two stars for the set design. Maybe half a star extra for Paris Hilton’s cameo.

Please walk us through one of the times you gave it your maximum stars. What made that viewing so special?
Sophie: This movie only got five stars from me twice: the last watch, out of sheer euphoria that I didn’t have to watch anymore, and when I got my family to watch it with me. Getting to sit my parents and sister down for 82 minutes of pure agony, taking their phones, and letting them experience what I’d been experiencing for months was just fun, fun, fun. 

The lower the quality, the better. VHS watches were the least painful because I couldn’t see the individual teeth in the fish’s mouth anymore.

—⁠Sophie

Admit it, do any of its gaggiest gags tickle your funny bone?
Sophie: Something about the Cat getting slammed with a kid’s baseball bat in his nether regions and briefly transforming into a little girl on a swing really killed me every time.  

Caleb: The Playboy fold-out gag still sends me rolling. Absolutely insane that they got away with that.

On the other hand, a lot of the better quips derive from the absurdism of adult life. How has enveloping yourself in those jokes helped you take on new responsibilities?
Sophie: Signing any legal documents or reviewing any formal agreements is a lot more fun when I can picture the Cat forcing me to sign them. 

Caleb: The sheer absurdity of the kids being forced to watch Taiwanese Parliament on TV speaks volumes on the political nihilism I’m feeling with our current style of government. What an insane sentence that was.

Take us to the week that you moved into your apartment. I need to know more about the sequence of events that led to this idea. 
Sophie: We watched it for the first time a week after moving in. I was preparing to start school, we were figuring out how to get around in a city, we didn’t even have a couch yet. We had to sit on our mattress on the floor of our bedroom because we had no chairs. It seemed like a fun, exciting addition to our new life, and I really enjoyed it! I don’t think it really started to feel bad until we got into the teens. 

Okay, so [breaks out the Phunometer] who’s the control freak and who’s the rule breaker in the house?
Caleb: God, we’re honestly both the control freak most of the time. The entire excursion had been discussed for a while, since our lifestyles and living habits lined up so well—we needed a challenge to make living with each other at least a little bit difficult at times. Which I guess backfired since the mutual suffering gave us a common grievance. Living is easy when you have a common enemy.

Sophie: It’s scary to think about how watching this movie may have actually eased this huge step in our relationship. I feel like it’s a common concern that moving in together changes a lot in a relationship, the quality time you spend together changes, you have less alone time, etc. Having to spend the length of the movie each week sitting together, unobstructed by technology, and share this common pain really strengthened the bond that we had. God bless The Cat in the Hat

Sean Hayes pulls double-duty as Hank Humberfloob and the voice of the fish, one of the few characters from the original book.
Sean Hayes pulls double-duty as Hank Humberfloob and the voice of the fish, one of the few characters from the original book.

Watching it again recently, I noticed how many of the characters are representations of being neurodivergent. Hank Humberfloob is an explicit caricature of OCD, Sally’s attentive list-making is close to my own ASD, and the primal nature of Conrad and Cat is pure ADHD. How do these personalities resonate with you?
Caleb: I’m diagnosed with a panic disorder and generalized anxiety, so seeing the fish freak out during the entire movie truthfully made me feel a bit seen. I, too, would be a bit apprehensive of a six foot tall talking cat ruining my rainy day inside.

Sophie: Watching this movie 52 times really just provided the perfect diagnostic case study for me. For the first half of our journey, I was in a mental-health diagnosis class and being able to have my DSM and analyze every character made it feel a little less like a waste of time. It also gave some great conversation between my classmates and I; when we needed to come up with examples for different symptoms or diagnoses, I always had a character I could pull out and describe. Yet again, The Cat in the Hat proved to be a blessing and a curse. 

We’ve seen ratings for maligned movies rise as the Letterboxd community has matured around Gen Z growing up. You’re not alone in keeping The Cat in the Hat alive, too; there’s tongue-in-cheek TikTok lip-sync parodies still making the rounds. What do you think fuels this overcompensating reclamation of rejected 2000s movies?
Sophie: People love bad things sometimes. 

Caleb: I believe wholeheartedly that nostalgia is one of the most powerful elements that make up this stupid little universe that all of us share. It permeates my life, frankly. Sophie and I are avid VHS watchers and collectors, and it’s solely to reclaim that dwindling spark of childlike wonder you only get when you watch a movie at age eight in your pajamas while eating only the fun-shaped marshmallows out of a bowl of dry cereal. I feel like all early 2000s flicks—the good and the bad—are such a specific time capsule of filmmaking that brings so many warm memories of simpler times to any Gen Zer. I say we reclaim anything that brings us comfort, even if stupid. Bring back Pogs! Bring back Silly Bandz, damn it!

Caleb and Sophie won’t be letting cats into their apartment any time soon. Harrumph!
Caleb and Sophie won’t be letting cats into their apartment any time soon. Harrumph!

Here’s the million-dollar question: can live-action Dr. Seuss be done right? What would you suggest?
Caleb: The only way I could see live-action Seuss going well is if it was a shot-for-shot remake of this very film with Sophie and I doing every part from memory. Get Bo Welch on the horn. Let him know we’re ready. 

Sophie: I have the whole script memorized and could play a mean Conrad. Put me in. 

Most importantly, do you have a cat?
Sophie: I would love a cat, but tuxedo cats are permanently banned from the apartment. 

Caleb: If one shows up outside our door on a rainy day when there’s no fun to be had and no games to play, I refuse to let him in. If he’s wearing a hat, I’m calling law enforcement.

It’s time for my final request. Caleb, you’re a poet. Please write me a Dr. Seuss-inspired poem inspired by this interview. Thank you.
Caleb: Okay, a poem for Jack:

Movies are magic.
Movies are fun.
But some movies are tragic
when you’re watching just one.
For fifty-two watches 
we sat and we sat.
Cursed to be watching 
The Cat in The Hat.
Yes, I’d rather be golfing,
I’d rather play chess.
I’d rather be watching
the sun set in the West.
I’d rather eat pizza!
I’d rather play sport!
Or do any activity
of the fun-having sort.
A train! A train!
I’d be hit by a train!
Or have an icepick
shoved into my brain!
I’d rather chew lemons!
Or drink a rat smoothie!
Than have to sit 
through this awful movie.
I’d be trampled by cadcoozles!
Or strangled by wugs!
Or give a huge cactus
a big snuggly hug!
I would not, could not, 
watch this movie again!
If you try to make me,
you aren’t my friend!
Yes, I’d do almost anything—
break my nose, neck, or back—
than to even THINK of this movie…
Thanks for reminding me, Jack!


The Cat in the Hat’ is streaming on Peacock. ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ is re-releasing in limited US theaters December 3.

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