Hollywood loves its talking animals. As far back as the first "talkies" studios were discovering ways to put human words in inhuman mouths. The results have typically been terrible (Francis the Talking Mule, anyone?), while on rare occasions, the process has yielding something magical indeed (the brilliant Oscar nominee Babe). With titles clearly weighted on the side of slop, why does Tinseltown continue to churn out such chum? It's all about the box office (and the electronic babysitter known as home video), baby. Take the recently released and wholly unnecessary sequel Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. Why was that waste of Summer movie space inflicted upon a public that, last time anyone checked, wasn't hankering for a second helping of curs vs. kitty spy histrionics? Because the 2001 film made $200 million worldwide (let that number sink in for a moment) and where there is potential commerce, there is the industry's undeniable need to cash in. How else can you explain this wholly unnecessary tie-in release of the original Cats and Dogs on Blu-ray? Indeed, it's all about the greenbacks.
Psycho feline Mr. Tinkles wants to take over the world. His plan? Kidnap the bloodhound pet of a famed scientist, and use the pooch as a means of stealing the doc's new formula for curing allergies. The nutburger Persian will then reverse engineer the serum so that it makes everyone on the planet physically sensitive to dogs. The result? Owners will shun their shelties and -BANG! - goodbye bow wows! Reacting to the anarchic plot, the members of an elite undercover canine organization, including old hand Butch, new recruit beagle Lou, Chinese crested communications expert Peek, deep-voiced Collie Sam, and sultry Saluki Ivy have to avoid the prying eyes of their human owners while banding together to save the world from this furball menace. But they will have to fight off some crafty Siamese ninjas, a calculating Calico, and a Russian blue hellbent on bringing Tinkles terrifying designs to life.
It's an idea so devilishly simple that you're surprised no one has thought of it before. As evolutionarily determined "natural" enemies, cats and dogs are supposed to be at each other's hairy throats. So why not turn it into something satiric, dropping said age old animosity into the updated world of spies, espionage, and secret undercover societies. Drop in the necessary tech spec F/X and some stunt voice casting and you've got a fresh and funny family hit, right? Well, don't jump to some many unnecessary conclusions, my fair reader. The reason why is quite simple. Though it aims for a zygote level of comic complexity, Cats and Dogs is just a dumb, derivative mess. Well meaning doesn't earn you giggles, and this lumbering, lame excuse for keeping a kid's already addled attention span is as flat as a fast food pancake. If it wasn't for the studio-mandated game of "guess the voice" innate to the genre and the moments of "spot the CGI", there'd be little to keep even the most unseasoned film fan interested or engaged.
The basic problem with the otherwise bland movie is the contrivances of the plotting. We know the premise will pit animal against animal, but then adding in all the super spy silliness really detracts from the idea. Instead of being about biology, it's about who has the better toys. Imagine a world were James Bond goes toe to toe with the various offshoots of his franchise and you get a decent idea of how overstuffed the concept becomes. In between all the spoofs and genre lampoons, it's one storyline cog after another. At least the current sequel squelches all the human being fodder to focus solely on the critters. Here, we get Jeff Goldblum wondering where his Jurassic Park/Independence Day paychecks went to, with cinematic non-started Elizabeth Perkins as the possible love interest. Every time they are onscreen, the movie meanders to a halt. As the animals in question, Sean Hayes goes goofball gonzo as Mr. Tinkles, while Jon Lovitz and Glenn Ficarra make up the majority of the feline felons. On the canine side, Alec Baldwin, Tobey Maguire, Susan Sarandon, Michael Clarke Duncan, Joe Pantoliano, and the late Charleton Heston give good wet nosed growl.
But the magic and fun you expect from seeing cats and dogs going head to head is almost nonexistent. The results often feel like a movie trying way too hard to have a good time. Part of the reason is that director Lawrence Gutterman has no real feel for the material. Even the action scenes seems small and unimposing. Of course, looking at where his career went post-production (Son of the Mask, anyone?) argues for his limitations behind the lens - all of which makes the 2010 update all the more pointless. With few of the original characters returning and a wealth of worthless additions to the critter mythos, it's money grabbing at its most blatant. The point is even more obvious when viewing Cats and Dogs nearly a decade after its release. At the time, some saw it as a leap forward in taking technology into photorealistic physiology. Now, it just looks like junk. The under 10 set will thinks it's fabulous. Anyone older than that will question the competence of all involved - including the parents who purchased such a sorry excuse for entertainment.
The big problem with CG films made before, say, 2008, is that they tend to translate poorly onto high definition. The obviousness of the technology, matched by the fakeness of some of the surfaces, results in a look worse than some of the practical effects from decades before. Of course, a movie like Cats and Dogs couldn't have been made prior to the introduction of the motherboard based science, but that doesn't mean the visuals here look any more authentic. In fact, one could argue that they look worse. Still, the 1080p/VC-1 transfer brings the primary color scheme and ultra-stylized image approach to acceptable life. Granted, this means the visual can often be more sickeningly sweet than a bowl of saccharine, and there has clearly been an attempt by Warners to boost the contrasts - almost unnaturally so. While cinematic in its 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Cats and Dogs on Blu-ray looks decidedly manufactured.
Much better, if only by minor degrees, is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix. The presentation usually sticks to the front speaks, that is, when it's not moving around the channels during the action scenes. With the high-tech angle of the narrative, we do get some decent scientific ambience, but overall, the soundtrack is geared toward simplicity and straightforwardness. Dialogue is always clear, and the score by John Debney pops with perfect kid vid slickness. Oddly enough, even though this is a surround sound situation, there is a real lack of immersion. It's almost as if Warners sat back and strategically directed the speaker response based on what was onscreen, instead of creating a true sound environment.
One of the consistently puzzling elements of home video release is the hit or miss strategy on providing added content. A great film will warrant little more than a trailer or an EPK level featurette, while a title like Cats and Dogs, clearly aimed at a demographic that doesn't give a damn about bonus features, is tricked out to the max. When was the last time you found Junior and his buddies cranking up a commentary track, or watching a storyboard to scene comparison. Exactly. Anyway, we get an informative alternate narrative presentation with director Guterman, production designer James Bissell, produer Chris DeFaria and actor Sean Hayes. It's funny and insightful, but given the movie involved, sort of superfluous. Similarly, a series of featurettes delve deeply into the making of the movie, from an HBO First Look bit of hype to supposed comic pieces that are as funny as a flea bath. Toss in some concept sketches and the abovementioned contrast between pre and production visualization and you've got more than a movie like Cats and Dogs deserves.
Like Romantic Comedies, generic action films, and the studio-produced horror film, the CG kid flick is aimed at a demographic specifically designed and focus grouped into adoring such drivel. If you are outside the intended audience, you'll be stuck struggling on the outside - and perhaps not very eager to find yourself in. While most would consider this a Skip It experience, the wee ones waddling around out there need something to keep them indoors and away from some much needed outdoor exercise. Therefore, a rating of Rent It will be proffered, allowing Moms and Dads everywhere to decide just how many of their children's brain cells they wish to damage before their offspring reaches puberty. Clearly, something like Cats and Dogs is innocuous and nonthreatening. It's also irritating and sparse in computer generated amusement.
Want more Gibron Goodness?
Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here