Cats rule. Not according to Cats & Dogs, however, which was decidedly pro-dog. If you’re a huge dog fan (and somehow can ignore the fact that all property damage except a wee little bit of knife-throwing was done by dogs), you should enjoy Cats & Dogs. The dog acting is fantastic, actually – multiple dogs on screen with different actions and motivations, and plenty of decent puppets. Cats aren’t such sell-outs, so the cats’ best moments are compliments of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (they did the upsettingly realistic dalmatians in 101 Dalmatians). Overall, it’s like a high tech live action Roadrunner cartoon. The violence (that the pets enact against each other) is cartoonish and leaves no scars, unlike Babe 2, so kids who are old enough will not be freaked out by the idea of a cute little beagle getting karate-kicked in the head by a Siamese cat. Also, it looks fake enough (most of the time) that the slightly younger kids(if they aren’t kept in a closet) will know it’s not real.
Human performers Elizabeth Perkins and Jeff Goldblum know that they are mere set pieces for the real canine-feline drama, and they regrettably dial in their performances. Goldblum, with the most potential for comedy as the distracted wacky scientist, gets more laughs as a result of his ludicrous Science! costumes than for anything he contributes. Goldblum is quite funny when he wants to be and it made me want to weep to see him slip past this movie without leaving a mark. The adult potential of the film is used mostly for trying to resolve father-son problems, rather than slipping in jokes only adults would get.
The voice talent was culled from comedians, TV actors, and Oscar nominees/winners, and the blend is actually pretty good. Joe Pantoliano sort of reprises his Matrix role as a Chinese Crested who is the surveillance comm for the dog team. Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon are wiser, older dogs with a complex back story (barely touched), and they hint at greatness in their brief scenes. Michael Clarke Duncan is a hair-blind sheepdog, no doubt unconscious that his character is playing into human racial stereotypes that fell from Hollywood fashion around Poitier’s heyday. The more major the character, however, (Lou and Mr. Tinkles) the more unrecognizable the voice, which works for the film. Is it Tobey Maguire? I don’t even remember and I don’t care to look it up – the important thing is, Lou is a convincing, naive puppy with charm and spunk, and Sean Hayes’ Mr. Tinkles is evil, impatient, and gruff. Jon Lovitz is a very stupid pug-faced tabby, perfect face casting for the character.
The effects are cool, and the best jokes are the small ones, the little parodic winks at every spy movie ever made. Every gadget, every crazy death toy, every insane fight sequence, evokes memories of James Bond, the 60’s Avengers, even Police Squad. One kidnapping sequence (there are more than one) is straight out of a classic Warner Bros. cartoon, appropriately enough. It’s not derivative so much as an homage – and it is this that saves the film from being just another talking animal movie. Unfortunately, too much doesn’t make sense when it should and too much else is over-explained when it doesn’t need to be, and the cats are portrayed as clearly more incompetent than they should be. My cat would have whipped that army into shape.
We all walked out amused and satisfied, but it is definitely a summer popcorn movie and not the next Babe.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 7/4/01
Time in minutes 93
Director Larry Guterman
Studio Warner Brothers