Cats & Dogs

History is riddled with stories of the power-crazed set on world domination and the fearless agents who sacrifice everything to prevent it. Sure, we’ve heard of the travails of Mata Hari, James Bond, Lara Croft, Austin Powers and Indiana Jones.

But where are the annals of Lou, Butch, Peek, Sam and Ivy?

Thanks to “Cats & Dogs,” the deeds of these canine superspies finally will get the recognition they deserve.

You see, unbeknownst to us humans, felines and canines have been at war for control of the world since the dawn of time. Thanks to an uneasy truce, neither species has assumed the upper hand. Until now. Mr. Tinkles, a heartless white Persian cat, has mobilized members of his Feline Liberation Front and taken steps to tip the balance in his favor. Now it’s up to a canine quintet to stop him.

God help us all.

Written by first-timers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, “Cats & Dogs” should entertain even those indifferent to animal antics. Those deeply entrenched, however, might very well implode halfway through the film. (Unless, of course, they’ve seen the dreaded trailers that spoil all the best gags and lines.)

This film has everything. Slow motion Ninja fighting sequences, high-tech gadgetry, animals dressed in human clothing, a dastardly villain, sight gags and a strong cast.

Director Lawrence Guterman, who worked on “Antz,” deserves a trip to the Bahamas for sticking with this time-consuming project – preparations started in 1999. They say never work with animals or children, and somehow he found himself working with both.

The casting agents did a fine job reeling in the brightest stars. As Professor Brody, Jeff Goldblum employs that trademark eccentric quirkiness that his fans treasure him for. In this role, he even seems to have lightened up a bit; he’s not nearly as neurotic as he sometimes can be. And although he’s nerdy, he’s of the squeezable kind.

Elizabeth Perkins, who was fantastic in “Big,” is so right for this film. She’s playful and mildly sexy, but maternal and warm.

Eleven-year-old Alexander Pollock charms sufficiently.

As the vocal talents in this film, we have the always humorous Jon Lovitz as Calico the cat; bass-throated Michael Clarke Duncan as the English sheepdog Sam; the wiry Joe Pantoliano as Peek the Chinese crested; gruff yet paternal Alec Baldwin as the Anatolian shepherd Butch; Southern-tongued Susan Sarandon as Ivy the Saluki Hound; and sweet, innocent-voiced Tobey Maguire as the pocket beagle Lou.

But wait … I have forgotten someone. The incomparably talented, the always sharp-tongued and witty Sean Hayes as the grandest villain of them all – Mr. Tinkles.

Who else could have made this sour-puss so grand? So perfectly evil? There’s a bit of Jack McFarland here, but the voice is deeper, more menacing. You might imagine Mr. Tinkles (a name almost as splendid as Kronk in “The Emperor’s New Groove”) saying “Just kitty” while he gestures wildly.

(Had he not still been wowing them on Broadway, producers might have chosen the equally delicious Nathan Lane. However, he has done this gig once before in “Stuart Little.”)

The voices are only part of the effect, however. The animals assembled here are impressive in their ability to entertain and hit their marks. No doubt, the cute factor of the beagle will encourage a frenzy for the breed.

In addition to the quality talent in front of the camera, behind it lurks a very impressive team of technicians. “Cats & Dogs” sports more than 800 visual effects, involving almost 200 animators, designers, compositors, sculptors and technicians.

To realize these creatures, the filmmakers had to employ the wonders of CGI; puppetry, courtesy of the Henson Creature Shop; and live animals under the tutelage of Boone Narr, a veteran of the business for 30-years.

Although we’ve seen some of these effects before, it’s never been in such an exaggerated, deliberately broad fashion.

“Cats & Dogs” creates about as much enjoyment as you can legally get these days. Those who liked “Spy Kids” will be happy to find more of the same, only with fewer child actors.

Author: Julien R. Fielding

Julien R. Fielding has been reviewing films, and covering the entertainment industry, for more than a decade. Her favorite genres are sci-fi, horror, action, and anime. She authored the book, Discovering World Religions at 24 Frames Per Second.

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