[Screen It]

(2001) (Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins) (PG)

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Comedy/Action: After a nefarious cat attempts to steal a human professor's anti-dog allergy lab work and use it against the canines of the world, various dog spies and agents, including a young puppy, do what they can to stop him and his feline accomplices.
Lou (voice of TOBEY MAGUIRE) is a young beagle puppy who yearns for something exciting in his life beyond just being someone's pet. He gets that chance when he's adopted by Carolyn Brody (ELIZABETH PERKINS), a suburban mom who's looking for a pooch to replace the family's missing dog that left's her son, Scott (ALEXANDER POLLOCK), in a deep funk.

It turns out, however, that the Brody's dog hasn't run off, but instead was kidnapped by a bunch of cats working for the nefarious Mr. Tinkles (voice of SEAN HAYES), a Persian cat who's scheming to take over the world from the mansion of his elderly and ailing human master, Mr. Mason. It seems that Scott's dad (JEFF GOLDBLUM) is a researcher who's trying to find a cure for human allergies to canines and Mr. Tinkles is concerned that if that occurs, dogs will have an upper hand in the perpetual battle between the two species.

Accordingly, the Persian ordered the removal of the Brody's dog and now has a contract on Lou, hoping to remove any canine presence so that he can put in a feline operative to retrieve Prof. Brody's formula and use it against the dogs. Fortunately for Lou, Butch (voice of ALEC BALDWIN), an operative for Dog Command, saves the young pup and introduces him to the world of canine spy operations, a James Bond like order where various dogs serve as agents and try to keep the peace using all sorts of high-tech equipment.

Lou then meets Butch's associates, Peek (voice of JOE PANTOLIANO), a Chinese hairless who's an electronics expert and watches for new cats showing up in the neighborhood, and Sam (voice of MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN), a friendly sheepdog who's a bit too enthusiastic about acting like a dog spy. As Lou tries to become accustomed to his new role as a dog agent on the lookout for felines, including Mr. Tinkle's lieutenant, Calico (voice of JON LOVITZ) and also meets Ivy (voice of SUSAN SARANDON), a stray Saluki hound who knows Butch from the past, he and other canines must contend with the nefarious cat's many attempts at removing them and stealing Prof. Brody's anti-allergy formula.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
In one of the many memorable scenes from Ivan Reitman's classic "Ghostbusters," there's a moment where Bill Murray's character is trying to convince the mayor of the severity of the paranormal crisis they're facing. While he and his colleagues list a number of repercussions, the emphasis is put on the last one, the real kicker - "Cats and dogs…living together."

The joke pays off since we all know that those animals are mortal enemies. Okay, that might not necessarily be true and there are those that get along just fine. Yet, the stereotype exists - whether culturally reinforced or just one of those natural senses we have - and most everyone has seen such antagonism in real life and/or TV shows and movies.

Of course, little do we know that these two species are actually in an uneasy truce with occasional skirmishes and flare-ups that worry the respective governing bodies of either side. You see, while it seems that cats and dogs are relatively simple creatures that just do their day to day feline and canine things, they're actually intelligent beings that hide the fact that they can speak and operate complex, spy-like operations from their "owners."

That's the fun premise behind "Cats & Dogs," a clever, funny and terrifically entertaining film that kids and adults alike should wholeheartedly enjoy. While the "realistic" talking animal bit is no longer novel after the two "Babe" and "Dr. Dolittle" films, this picture takes the concept and expands on it with delightful results.

Seemingly inspired by the spirit and essence of those old Warner/Looney Tunes cartoons that featured animals in conflict that acted "normal" in front of humans but returned to their diabolical and scheming ways in their absence, director Lawrence Guterman (marking his feature film debut after helming certain sequences in "Antz") and screenwriters John Requa & Glenn Ficarra (making their feature debut) have infused the film with so many amusing, funny and hilarious bits that it would be a crime to repeat and thus spoil them.

Suffice it to say, some of that material stems from all of the James Bond/ "Get Smart" style material and gadgets as the film actually betters "Spy Kids" in such regards. The best touch is in having the nefarious villain being a Persian cat. For those who remember the old Bond films such as "You Only Live Twice," the evil Blofeld - played then by Donald Pleasence - had such a Persian lap cat and the connection here is a terrific touch and bit of homage.

The most obvious moments of humor, however, stem from the sight of the animals themselves, particularly when they act or move in human-like fashion (as well as reverting back to "normal" behavior in the presence of humans). Using live animals enhanced and/or accompanied by computer effects and/or puppets, the technical filmmakers - including animal trainer/stunt coordinator Boone Narr ("Stuart Little," "The Green Mile") and the many folks at Rhythm & Hues, Jim Henson's Creature Shop, Tippet Studio and Mill Film -- have created some terrifically fun characters to watch.

While the puppetry is a bit evident at times and the filmmakers unfortunately had to include yet another "Matrix" inspired, three-hundred and sixty degree spin around an action scene (please let there be a ban on all such scenes from this point on), the rest of the effects are seamless, clever and often hilarious.

As in most hand drawn and computer-generated films, it's the vocal performances that add the final touch, and in such regards this one doesn't disappoint. Although not as noticeably inspired as the work in "Shrek," the efforts from the likes of Tobey Maguire ("Wonder Boys," "The Cider House Rules"), Alec Baldwin ("Pearl Harbor," "State and Main"), Sean Hayes ("Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," TV's "Will and Grace"), Jon Lovitz ("Small Time Crooks," "The Wedding Singer"), Joe Pantoliano ("Memento," "The Matrix") and others is all solid, with the various performers bringing just the right touches and nuances to the animals they play.

The human performances by Jeff Goldblum ("Jurassic Park," "The Big Chill"), Elizabeth Perkins ("28 Days," "Crazy in Alabama") and Alexander Pollock ("Big Bully," "Replicant") are fine although they're obviously upstaged by their animal counterparts in both screen time and material, and exist in storylines that never stray too far from the predictable.

Clever, witty and simply a joy to watch, the film may drag a bit here and there and should have included a least a few good cats. Nevertheless, it's still a terrific and imaginative film that the whole family can enjoy together. "Cats & Dogs" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 30, 2001 / Posted July 4, 2001

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