Old Cat, New Hat

One of the quirks of my mother growing up is that she didn’t like Dr. Seuss books. We never had any in the house. The ones at school were looked at askance if we brought them home. Was it the weird creatures in them, the strange, made-up rhymey words, or the anarchy in the stories?

It only made them more alluring to us kids, though. And the king of the Seuss characters, the Cat in the Hat, seemed the most anarchic of the entire roster. He came to the house of Sally and her brother while mom went out of the store and was determined to make to fun. Two games he suggests: ‘Up-Up-Up with a Fish” and “Fun-in-a-Box.” Things get out of control pretty fast. The fish is flustered. Soon Thing One and Thing Two are flying kites inside the house. They’re going to get in trouble for sure (and suddenly it’s not such a mystery why moms might not have endorsed the story).

“The Cat in the Hat” became the cornerstone of a distinguished set of children’s books, was the basis for a surprisingly mean-spirited Mike Myers movie, and now is back on public TV.

Because fun is no longer the basis of any kids’ show on PBS, the Cat has been remade into a show about science.

“The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That” debuted this morning, on the one Monday kids could sleep in. In it, the  Cat gets permission from the mom to take Sally and the newly diverse narrator on a bunch of adventures where they learn some aspect about science. Today involved the insect world. Thing One and Thing Two are back, but are better behaved. Lessons are shared. The fish is still skeptical.

It’s a big plus that Martin Short provides the voice, spouting the kind of carefree non sequiters  he once used for characters from Ed Grimley to Jiminy Glick.

But doesn’t being a guide to science represent a character change?

“I think this is very true to The Cat’s character,” said Kate Klimo, the Executive Director of Development for Random House
 Children’s Entertainment and Vice President and
 Publisher of Random House Children’s Books, who was Dr. Seuss’ editor and is current keeper of
 the flame of Ted Geisel at Random House.

The unpredictability of the character is intact, Klimo says. “I like to think Ted is not spinning in his urn of ashes.”

Klimo wouldn’t say much about the past incarnation of the Cat – in the Mike Myers film. “It sort of epitomizes the challenges involved in
 bringing a great book to the screen,” she says.

“The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That” is truer to the cat in the book, even if he is turning to science world where cats talk about the scientific properties of insects even though, unlike the show, cats and bugs and fish can’t really talk.

But kids can see through that, Klimo says.

“I think that kids are pretty
 sophisticated and children’s literature is full of
 talking animals,” she says. “I think from a fairly early age they understand that the groundhog in the backyard or
 whatever, woodchuck in the backyard, is not going to
 strike up a conversation with them.”

It was a big question when the show was being planned. “The scientists were perfectly comfortable with the
 animals expressing their reality, because it is, after
 all, partially fantasy.”

“The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That” airs at 8:30 and 9 a.m. on CPTV.

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