A giant red banner bearing a despotic likeness hangs menacingly over a podium at one end of a giant warehouse. Legions of eager troops cheer for the speaker and his message of conquest and glory. The speaker pauses for effect and glowers out at the crowd before sending them forth on their diabolical mission. As his army marches off to battle, he swishes his tail in anticipation. Who is this dictator in the wings? Mr. Tinkles.
If the thought of a white persian cat holding an army of mice in sway or a beagle battling a trio of Siamese Ninja cats is your cup of tea, then you will be very pleased with Cats & Dogs. However, if you are looking for a sophisticated comedy with lots of clever adult references, you should be forewarned. Cats & Dogs caters more to kids and employs lots of wacky situations and crazy facial expressions, but isn't really all that concerned with subtlety or sophistication. Luckily, it's also a lot of fun.
Lou is a beagle puppy thrust into an international conspiracy. Apparently, unbeknownst to humans, cats and dogs have been secretly at war for thousands of years. Now, a scientist has come up with a cure for dog allergies that will tip the scales in the favor of the canines and the cats are hard at work to stop it. Stuck in the middle are the scientist and his family, completely oblivious to the battle raging around them. That's the framework, and while that's cute enough, the really enjoyable parts of this film are the actual interactions between the animals. The meetings where the cats are discussing their plans are pretty funny, as are the elite squad of dogs who are guarding the formula. Best of all, however, are the periodic battles between the two. A Russian Blue who coughs up hairballs full of deadly assassin's tools takes on a beagle and labrador and nearly destroys the entire house.
The nice thing about this movie is also one of it's drawbacks. It's really very inoffensive. This is a film that you could take your kids and your grandparents and not worry about a thing. The worst thing I can think of, aside from cartoon violence, is a single fart joke. It's sweet, it's cute, and it's very friendly. Unfortunately, however, the tradeoff is that the filmmakers take absolutely no chances. A much funnier film would have taken more advantage of the endless opportunities to lampoon current events or other films, and have been less concerned with making it family-friendly.
Lou (Tobey Maguire) launches an attack in Warner Brothers' Cats and Dogs - 2001
Family friendly, however, is just what the filmmakers intended and they hit it right on the mark. The theater where I saw this movie was filled with kids and they were all squealing and laughing with delight. They even went so far as to sing along with Tom Jones' What's Up, Pussycat while the credits rolled. Cats & Dogs is a much more successful venture into kid entertainment than Disney's latest venture, Atlantis. Atlantis, which could have been good, was not really for kids, even though it's marketed as such. When I saw that movie I had a hard time putting my finger on what the problem was, but after seeing Cats it came clear. The kids in the audience in Atlantis weren't having any fun.
The acting, writing, and cinematography in this movie are all pretty standard. Jeff Goldblum mugs his way through and Elizabeth Perkins makes a great soccer mom. Susan Sarandon and Alec Baldwin provide voices for two of the dogs and John Lovitz makes an excellent henchman for the cats. Overall, this is a very enjoyable film. It's mostly fluff, but it's fun fluff and should be a great alternative for parents who want to get away from race cars and scary movies. Grade: B-
Cats & Dogs is rated PG for cartoon violence.
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