In the James Bond universe, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, evil genius, strokes a white
Persian cat as he creates global chaos. Well, what if the cat, not the man,
were the evil genius bent on world domination? And there was a secret organization
of canine spies to combat the evil cat genius?
In Cats & Dogs, a scientist is working on a formula to neutralize
dog allergies, which would give dogs the upper hand in the age-old pet popularity
contest. The felines are determined to steal the formula, and they'll flatten
any dog that gets in their way.
Cats & Dogs is a live-action cartoon: Tom and Jerry, with
a little Pinky and the Brain and James Bond thrown in for good measure.
The animals get into karate fights, wield deadly weapons, destroy private property,
launch themselves into the air, and many other things that your pet would get
the business end of a newspaper for doing. The action is accomplished by a nifty
combination of trained animals, computer animation, and high-tech puppets (provided
by the Henson Company). The final product is a little better than the usual
kiddie movie. Not a great film, but entertaining enough to keep the average
adult from grinding their teeth down to the gums.
The movie poster for Cats & Dogs asks "Who will you root for?"
Unfortunately, you don't actually get a choice. Sorry, cat lovers. In this scenario,
dogs are man's best friend. In a particularly creative sequence, we learn that
our belief that Egyptians used to worship cats is a slight misinterpretation
of the ancient pictograms. Actually, cats ruled the Egyptians with an iron paw,
until dogs stepped in to save the day.
The canine heroes, though, voiced by Tobey Maguire (Pleasantville,
and the upcoming Spider-Man) and Alec Baldwin (the most boring Baldwin)
are pretty bland. Susan Sarandan's character, Ivy, has no reason to be there.
And even the sidekicks, voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile,
Planet of the Apes) and Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix, Memento,
The Goonies) are only mildly interesting.
The cats are the real stars of this show. High praise to Sean Hayes, the voice
of the egomaniacal genius cat who strikes fear into the hearts of all dog kind.
His name is
Mr. Tinkles. Perhaps Cats & Dogs is rated PG for
its funny mean-spiritedness. Mr. Tinkles is angry and abusive. He puts the body
of his comatose owner into a mechanical wheelchair, sits on his lap, and imitates
his "master's" voice so he can get what he wants.
Mr. Tinkles' whipping boy is Calico (Jon Lovitz). Calico is one of those particularly
laughable flat-faced breeds of cat whose eyeballs stick out farther than their
noses. Then there is Russian Blue, or "The Russian." The Russian is
a mercenary, and his arsenal includes bladed boomerangs, plastic explosives,
and booby-trapped hairballs. It's too bad that the Russian wasn't given more
screen time. Finally, the movie's ninja cats continue the villainization of
Siamese begun in Lady and the Tramp.
The human beings in Cats & Dogs are kept mostly in the background,
but not enough in the background for my tastes. Jeff Goldblum plays the same
mumbly scientist that he's been doing at least as far back as The Fly (I
liked him in Jurassic Park and even Independence Day, but he's
starting to wear out his welcome). And every time the action shifts to the scientist's
family, you're reminded that this is, in fact, a live action movie made for
kids, complete with the usual God-awful life lessons - the lessons in this particular
movie being about the importance of taking time to play with your children (and,
in the case of the dogs, taking time to play with your master). There's even
the completely unnecessary moment where the little boy thinks that his dog might
be dead, and he cries and says, "Don't be dead, Lou. You're my best friend,"
and then we find out (surprise) that the dog was alive but unconscious. Made
me long for the days of Old Yeller.
Cats & Dogs gets by largely on the strength of its cat characters,
its witty observations about pets, and its occasional spy jokes (the dogs pump
one cat for information, literally. They pump his stomach, and find a note from
Mr. Tinkles detailing part of his plan. The end of the note says something like,
"When you've finished reading this, eat the letter, so no one will find
it.") The movie is occasionally more clever than it has to be, but a bit
too occasionally. There is a lot of cardboard (human) acting, uninspired slapstick,
and the usual kid's movie "exciting" climax, which invariably involves
some sort of goopy Nickelodeon-inspired substance.
Recommended for people with children and/or pets.