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Reviewed December 10th, 2001 by David Nusair


There are movies intended solely for kids and movies intended for kids but also enjoyable for adults. Cats and Dogs falls into the former category.

The star of the movie isn’t any one actor; rather, it’s a gaggle of special effects wizardry that dominate the film. And as we all learned with Godzilla, special effects will get you to a certain point – and then a script of some kind is actually required. That’s not to say Cats and Dogs doesn’t have a certain kind of charm going for it – the titular animals are quite cute and the humans are appropriately wacky – but the flimsy story just isn’t beefy enough to sustain a 90-minute movie.

Jeff Goldblum stars as an absent-minded professor who’s hot on the trail of a cure for allergies to dogs. His wife (played by Elizabeth Perkins) has just bought a little puppy for their son but unbeknownst to the three of them, there’s a secret war brewing right underneath their noses. See, the cats are very concerned about this canine allergy vaccine, so they’re trying to do whatever it takes to ensure that Goldblum doesn’t complete his task. Now, the new puppy has to be taken under the wing of an experienced group of dogs that have been busily patrolling the area, keeping it safe for Goldblum and family.

Initially, it seems as though Cats and Dogs is going to be a silly yet entertaining flick involving lots of special effects and a good proportion of celebrity voices. And for a while, it delivers (strictly on that level, of course). The special effects are indeed a lot of fun (the ninja cats are especially impressive) and the various celebs that provide voices are perfectly cast (Alec Baldwin as the grizzled veteren of the canines, Jon Lovitz as a smarmy cat, etc). And that’s all well and good – for about the first 20-minutes or so. After that point, the eye-popping special effects wear out their welcome and the novelty of hearing Michael Clarke Duncan voice a shaggy dog dissipates. There’s no doubt children will love the movie all the way through, but adults will likely find themselves looking for a fast exit after the novelty of seeing animals talk and fight wears off.

And that’s all the movie is, really – a novelty. Movies that utilize cutting-edge special effects as their driving force almost always fail – flicks like Godzilla, Armageddon, etc. – unless they’ve got a killer script propping the thing up. Cats and Dogs, while incredible to look at, just doesn’t become anything more than eye candy.

Audio: Cats and Dogs is presented with a 5.1 DD soundtrack and it really is impressive. Right from the opening moments, your surround speakers will be in for a bit of a workout. And it continues on right through to the end of the flick. The ambient sounds are plentiful here but never to the point of distraction.

Video: Unfortunately, I was only able to get my hands on the full screen version of the movie, since Warner decided at the last minute to put out a widescreen version as well – long after retailers had already made their initial purchases. But for a full screen transfer, this isn’t bad. This is an extremely colorful movie and the disc handles all of it well, with no artifacts to be seen.

Extras: First up is a commentary track, featuring Sean Hayes (the voice of Mr. Tinkles), director Lawrence Guterman, production designer James Bissel, and producer Chris Defaria. While Hayes only pops up during his Tinkles scenes (and has quite a bit to say about getting into the mind of a diabolical cat), the rest speak during the majority of the movie. These guys are clearly buddies, and the track is interesting yet always entertaining to listen to.

Next up is a 14-minute HBO behind-the-scenes special, hosted by Hayes. This initially seems to be the usual thing, with a lot of clips from the movie and sound bites from the actors talking about how great the flick is. But after a few minutes of that, this becomes a surprisingly informative little featurette, touching upon topics ranging from the casting of the voice talent to a sort of how-did-they-do-that? look at the computer effects and puppetry that was required to get the cats and dogs to walk and talk. This is followed by a six-minute doc that essentially probes a little deeper into the work that went into getting these animals to behave the way they did, and integrating special effects with the real deal.

Next up is a storyboard comparison of the ninja cat scene. This will interest storyboard enthusiasts, no doubt. Finally, there’s a trailer.

But there’s more! Those are the advertised features, but there are a few hidden features that are easy enough to find. If you click on the bone on the first page of the extras, you’ll get a bunch of conceptual sketches. Now, you’ve got to switch over to the “cat” menu to check out the other major hidden feature. From the first page of extras there, you’ll find some sort of a spiked object. Click it and you’ll see Mr. Tinkles screen tests for other movies. Cheesy, but fun. There’s also the opportunity to see a couple of montages in either menus, but these are useless – as they’re just recycled from the movie and don’t show anything new.

Conclusion: Cats and Dogs is a bit of a disappointment, given how much work must have gone into making it. But kids will no doubt love every second of it.


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