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'Cats & Dogs': Two Paws Up

By Jane Horwitz
Special To The Washington Post
Friday, July 6, 2001

   


    'Cats & Dogs'
Tinkles the Cat speaks in "Cats & Dog."
(Warner Bros.)
A deft scratch-n-sniff comedy, "Cats & Dogs" imagines a droll covert war between America's most popular pets, right under the noses of their clueless humans.

Clearly this brand of kibble-kaboodling isn't for all tastes. Those who take no delight in the anthropomorphizing of critters for cinematic purposes will be appalled. And cat fanciers could get their dander up at the movie's portrayal of their preening pets as evil, shifty-whiskered connivers bent on world domination. (You mean that's just a stereotype?)

It's also crucial that a reviewer admit her bias (in case you haven't detected one). As a beagle lover, we rooted for the film's cuddly hero, Lou, a beagle pup who's an 11 on a cuteness scale of 10. (Actually five trained "pocket beagles" – bred to stand 10 inches high – played Lou, depending upon whether he was required to sit, run, jump, or cock his head to one side and look adorable.)

Screenwriters John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have concocted a surprisingly witty and sophisticated spy movie spoof that will tickle adult pet lovers and still capture kids 6 and older with its boy-and-his-dog love story and pet slapstick. Lawrence Guterman directs both human and furry actors with a light touch. Such films can trip over their own special effects – this one stays mostly upright, not even overusing its high-tech paw-operated espionage gear.

About three-quarters of the way through, the plot thickens to the consistency of canned pet food. But the film regains its rhythm and careens toward a big finish with an army of mice in the vanguard. (The cats promise them 16 pounds each of Monterey Jack and the continent of Australia once felines rule.)

The animals' computer-enhanced lips form words crisply to match the voices of actors doing their lines. Though a masterpiece compared to this fluff, "Babe" has been surpassed somewhat in that technical area. But the lip movements here are almost too creepily humanoid.

The boy hero of "Cats & Dogs" is Scott Brody (Alexander Pollock, a movie kid from central casting), who's sad and angry because his dog has disappeared. In fact, Buddy, an undercover agent in the war against cats, was dognapped by felines working for the evil white Persian, Mr. Tinkles (voice of Sean Hayes). Tinkles targets the Brody home because Scott's dad, an absent-minded professor (Jeff Goldblum, in a likable, typically ditzy turn), is working on a cure for human allergies to dogs. If he succeeds, dogs will pull ahead of cats in their epic rivalry.

The cats aren't as funny as the dogs in "Cats & Dogs." Mr. Tinkles' minions aren't interesting verbally. His right-paw tom is a cowardly Calico whose character, despite Jon Lovitz's voice, is too underwritten to make an impression.

Scott's animal-loving mom (Elizabeth Perkins) finds Lou, a beagle puppy, for Scott, but the boy refuses at first to warm up to it. ("Is that boy always so grumpy?" muses Lou. "Maybe they should switch his food.") Canine agents in the neighborhood, led by an all-business Anatolian shepherd, Butch (Alec Baldwin), believe Lou is a replacement from headquarters. They're shocked to learn he's untrained. Butch refuses to get emotional over humans and warns Lou not to warm up to the boy.

Butch trains Lou for combat and with his commandos, Peek (Joe Pantoliano), a Chinese Crested communications expert and Sam (Michael Clarke Duncan), a visually impaired English sheepdog, leads his motley pack into battle against Mr. Tinkles, et al. Even Lou's unknowing humans are eventually tangled in the catspiracy.

Tinkles is an acerbic villain, embittered by humiliations from his fawning human caretaker (Miriam Margolies), maid to a comatose rich man whose Christmas tree flocking factory is the site of the film's climax. "The puppy won't survive the night," he hisses after Lou arrives at the Brody home. "Send in the Ninjas!" – Siamese cats into martial arts. Later, he sends a Russian Blue (played by a British Shorthair) who coughs up hairballs that morph into weapons. A postfight clean-up in the Brody's living room is one of the movie's best gags – a little wag to "Pulp Fiction."

"Cats & Dogs" (PG, 87 minutes)Contains doggy poop and kitty hairball humor, and action sequences portraying cute critters in jeopardy that proves harmless. Area theaters.

 

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