Most cats understand that doors are portals to the outside world, but they don’t begin to understand the mechanics that make a door work. They just point their stubby little faces at the hinges, make a noise, and hope that magic happens. However, when I was in high school my family inherited a cat named Miho and Miho got it. When he wanted to go out he would actually try to turn the door handle with his paw. Of course, he didn’t have the mass (or the thumbs) to actually work a door, but he got the basic principle.
One day I was telling a friend about how impressed I was with Miho’s intelligence, and my friend sarcastically remarked “I open doors all the time and you never compliment me.” Naturally I explained that my standards for a creature with a brain the size of walnut are a little different than they are for a creature with a brain the size of a football.
Now, overall I did not enjoy Mouse Hunt very much, but I can’t completely trash it because it has one thing going for it: the titular mouse does a lot of really cool tricks in this movie and that was entertaining. Mouse Hunt is a movie about two brothers who inherit an old house from their father, and before they can sell it they have to renovate it. Before they can renovate it they have to win a battle of wits with the mouse that has taken charge of the house. The battle of wits they wage is not that witty – it mostly consists of the brothers exploding their vacuum cleaners or rupturing their sewage lines by accidentally shoving large objects where they don’t belong. Still, I have to give them this: every time the mouse outwits a trap or successfully escapes an obstacle course I was impressed.
I mean, come on: it’s got a brain the size of a pea! It’s kind of cool watching it do tricks.
Other than that, however, Mouse Hunt is pretty flawed. The movie’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t know who the protagonist really is. Are we supposed to be rooting for the brothers to triumph over the mouse? Because if so, the fact that they lose every battle in a humiliating fashion is kind of a problem. Are we supposed to root for the mouse? If so, why? The brothers have valid and relateable reasons for needing to sell the house – one of them is going through a divorce and the other just got fired from his job, so they both need money. As an adult human I understand how painful those problems can be. Why in the hell would I care about the mouse?
That might sound like a petty concern. After all, the appeal of the movie is meant to be in its live action versions of Looney Tunes set pieces. You’re not supposed to care about who is getting slapped or why in a slapstick comedy – you’re just supposed to enjoy the buffoonery. I get that. Still, it bothered me how pro-mouse this movie is. I have no vested interest in a coyote or a roadrunner – I can root for whomever the cartoon wants me to root for. Same thing for a cat and mouse cartoon – I’d rather own a cat than a mouse, but I’m not going to object to a cartoon where the mouse wins. But it’s not the same when it’s a human versus a mouse. In that case I’m team human, unless you convince me otherwise.
The honest truth is that Mouse Hunt could have convinced me otherwise, but it didn't want to. Unlike, say, Home Alone, where the people who are constantly getting hurt are theoretically bad people, this movie doesn't want you dislike the mouse's victims. They’re a little doltish, maybe, and self absorbed, but overall they’re sympathetic. As I said, they’re going through a hard time. They’re already in the dumps – their father just died and they’re broke for chrissakes – you’d have to be a stone cold bastard to root for them to end up in traction at the hospital, too.
I get it: mice are cute. I don’t dislike mice. I feel bad every time my cat brings me a dead mouse as a gift. (Also: birds. But this movie isn't called Bird Hunt.) And yeah, it’s cool to watch a mouse run an obstacle course. But there’s a flipside to what I was saying to my friend about Miho: sure, if you have a small brain I’ll respect you more for a simple trick, but the smarter you are, the more moral worth I'll give you. It's one thing to applaud an animal for doing a trick, it's another thing entirely to root for it to take over someone's house and then try to murder them in their sleep.
Winner: The Cat