Cats and Dogs
If its script and story had been as clever and inventive as its technical achievements, Cats and Dogs would have been one heck of a movie. As it is, the mildly amusing, visually impressive kiddie comedy-action flick seems perfectly suited to delight its target audience of 8-year-olds, leaving the rest of us ready to turn off the TV and turn to our own pets for more genuine laughs. Based on the premise that cats and dogs have been fighting a secret war under our noses since the days of ancient Egypt (when dogs supposedly released humans from the cats' tyrannical rule), Cats and Dogs uses a combination of live action, computer graphics, and puppetry to transform its furry heroes and villains into walking, talking, tech-savvy secret agents and evil masterminds. In this round of the eternal battle, eager puppy Lou (voiced by Tobey Maguire) is an inadvertent recruit to help protect Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum, in typical stuttering-science geek mode) who's only days away from perfecting a serum that would cure humans' allergies to dogs. He's aided by seasoned agent Butch (voiced by Alec Baldwin); together the doggy duo works to foil the schemes of the maniacal Mr. Tinkles (Sean Hayes), a pampered Persian kitty bent on mutating Brody's formula so that, rather than cure dog allergies, it would cause them, giving cats the upper hand. Sounds like a rip-roaring plot, yes? Yet somehow Cats and Dogs manages to lag in spots, bogging down in the sections where Lou has to decide between being a globe-trotting super agent or staying with the Brodys. The other actors who lend their voices to the film, from Susan Sarandon to Jon Lovitz, are underused, and the movie's few humans are about as deep as Lou's water dish Elizabeth Perkins, in particular, overdoes the suburban mom shtick as Goldblum's sunny, pet-loving wife. All that aside, Cats and Dogs does have some clever moments a Matrix-style fight between Lou and some Ninja kitties, Mr. Tinkles' unexpected allies in his diabolical scheme, etc. and its techno wizardry ain't bad, either (though some of the cats seem to have awfully big eyes...). It's just too bad the filmmakers went to all that trouble for a film that ultimately falls flat. Even so-so movies can get a dandy treatment on DVD, though, and Cats and Dogs is no exception. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is clear, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track highlights every purr and bark (French 5.1 is also available, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles). A healthy list of supplements includes a commentary with director Lawrence Guterman, producer Chris Defaria, and production designer James Bissell, with occasional pop-ins by Hayes (his bits seem to have been recorded separately and spliced in) as well as two featurettes (a 14-minute HBO "First Look" spot and the six-minute creature effects-oriented "Teaching Dog New Tricks"). Also here are storyboard comparisons for the Ninja sequence, the trailer, and two versions of the menus: one for cats and one for dogs. The kitty menus feature a three-question trivia game, a little promo speech by Mr. Tinkles, and some silly fake "screen tests" Tinkles did for movies like "Catsablanca" and "Apocalypse Meow." The canine screens offer three different trivia questions, a dog-focused promo bit, and a set of 15 concept sketches. DVD-ROM extras include an alternate ending, production artwork, screen savers, and more. Snap-case.