In 1997, Dreamworks was an upstart company backed by some of the most influential men in Hollywood. Gore Verbinski was a complete unknown, and to most people Nathan Lane was known, depending on what crowds you hung out with, as either the flamboyant one in The Birdcage or the guy who kinda sounds like Timon from The Lion King.
With the financial backing of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen, MouseHunt premiered during the December season as the studios’ second film. It was marketed as a fun for the whole family holiday flick. Quite a contrast from Dreamwork’s third film which premiered one week later; Amistad.
MouseHunt didn’t perform terribly at the box-office by any means. It made 61 million during its initial run in theaters on a budget of 38 million. Including worldwide sales it nearly quadrupled its budget at 122 million. Unfortunately for MouseHunt budget to gross sales ratios do not make a movie successful in the eyes of critics. The movie was absolutely panned.
With a rating of 43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a slightly more favorable rating of 54 percent on high holy Metacritic, its clear the established critics of the time had very little love for MouseHunt. The A.V. club called its premise “Intelligence insulting”. The San Francisco Chronicle described it as “Inane”. Many viewed it as Home Alone rip-off with a mouse instead of Macaulay Culkin. I’d call that an improvement, but to each their own.
Many on the east coast where Nathan Lane was a Broadway star felt that MouseHunt was a blatant Hollywood cash grab by Lane. Perhaps it was, but if that is the case it doesn’t matter because he acted his heart out and steals the show.
Profits did matter to Hollywood however, it’s director shot to Hollywood’s A-list and the revenue it generated helped Dreamworks become a powerhouse for childrens entertainment. It established a trend in Dreamworks productions of blending adult subject matter regarding the structure and nature of society with slapstick humor to appeal to young audiences. This legacy can be seen in movies like Antz and Galaxy Quest from the 90s, and into the 2000s in the original Shrek.
“Hold Up!” I heard you say. “MouseHunt is about a mouse in a house featuring lowbrow comedic gags…Where is the adult subject matter in that?” Oh my friends, let me tell you.
I’ll preface this next part by saying that none of this is meant to be derogatory by any means. Jewish comedy from Mel Brooks to Jerry Seinfeld is an invaluable part of the American landscape.
Quite a few people have noticed that Dreamworks pictures often feature uniquely Jewish comedy. Jerry Seinfeld starred in the flawed parable “Bee Movie”. Prince of Egypt was also one of Dreamworks’ original films and there isn’t a more essentially Jewish story than that of Moses and the story of the Exodus. It only makes sense really, considering Dreamworks was founded by some of the most talented and deservedly respected Jewish men in Hollywood.
Mousehunt is the cornerstone of the Dreamworks legacy for Jewish culture. I will contend that it hides its sophisticated and intelligent nature behind a palatable Hollywood sheen of gag comedy and well worn tropes. It is populist while at the same time being subversive. Quite contrary to it’s marketing, it is not a film for children. It is a film for adults who have children. It doesn’t deserve to be relegated to the dust-bin of the family section on Netflix insta-queue.
Does anyone else remember this movie?