Cats & Dogs (2001)

D: Lawrence Guterman
S: Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins

Silly but relatively harmless cross between Babe and Spy Kids pits feline against canine in a battle for world supremacy older than human society itself. Unbeknownst to us, the war between cats and dogs has been going on since ancient times, when cats had enslaved the human race only to be liberated by dogs. Since then dogs have been using ever more sophisticated technology to monitor and control cat activity. Trouble is at hand however as scientist Jeff Goldblum gets closer to perfecting an anti-allergy formula which will prevent dog allergies, giving canines the edge over felines as the house pet of choice, thus shifting the balance of power. The cats will do anything to prevent this, and when a puppy is accidentally put in place of a fully trained canine agent as the guardian of the scientist's household, the felines have an opportunity to strike.

Fast paced and cheerfully inane, Cats & Dogs is really about a series of diverting set pieces where computer animation and puppetry are mixed with genuine animal footage to produce action and adventure scenes to entertain the small fry. Dogs riding rocket sleds to secret underground headquarters, Siamese cats dropping from hand gliders to launch ninja attacks wearing stealth goggles, a villainous white Persian plotting world domination from a hilltop mansion where he is also occasionally the pampered pet of a wealthy industrialist, dogs running computerised surveillance systems located underneath garbage cans... you get the idea. The script is really about inventing situations of this kind to propel the story forward. There is no real reason for any of it, but that is hardly the point of the movie in the first place, so why look for one?

As you might expect though, there is a syrupy human story to link the action scenes together. It concerns the usual paternal drama involving Alexander Pollock and his relationship with well-meaning but neglectful Dad Goldblum. Elizabeth Perkins throws in her lot as Mom. This aspect of the story is less exciting, but goes about its business in much the manner you would presume it would and it does not get in the way too much. The actors do their best, and Goldblum manages to suitably goofy 'nutty professor' characterisation which makes him almost as wacky as the animal antics. Luckily enough the film allows the stories to come together at the climax, as the cats unveil their master plan and stop pretending to be cuddly and harmless.

There are enough gags in here to keep tolerant adults amused if they are not too put off by the whole enterprise. In some ways it is not very far from Toy Story in dramatising a standard childhood fantasy with the aid of technology which makes it more 'realistic' than was previously possible. On this level the film is not quite all it hopes to be though. The movement of limbs and articulation of dialogue is still frequently artificial, and without the conceit of 'toy' physics to explain this, the film doesn't quite suspend disbelief as well as necessary to placate the adult audience. It is hard to empathise with the animal characters in spite of vocal characterisation by a distinguished cast of actors including Tobey Maguire, Alec Baldwin, Sean Hayes, Susan Sarandon, Joe Pantoliano, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Lovitz, Salome Jens, and Charlton Heston.

Kids should enjoy it immensely though. It will not enrich their lives or contribute greatly to their appreciation of the arts and crafts of cinema, but it will pass the time either on the big screen or small with few enough lulls to send them wandering around the theatre in search of stimulation. There is a lot of violence, but it is more in the line of over the top cartoon action than anything unpleasant. Some adults may find it too much, but then that is pretty much always the case.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2001.