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Unbeknown to humans, cats and dogs have been waging a covert war for centuries. Recently however, the stakes have got considerably higher thanks to Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum), who’s working on a vaccine that, if successful, will eradicate human allergies to dogs. The cats, naturally, see this as a particularly bad idea as it will give the dogs the upper hand in their struggle. So while they develop their own vaccine to make all humans allergic to dogs; their leader, Mr Tinkles (voice of Sean Hayes) sets out to disrupt the professor’s work. For their part, the dogs have assigned inexperienced pup Lou (Tobey Maguire) to protect the professor, his wife (Elizabeth Perkins) and son Scotty (Alexander Pollock), aided by some more experienced pooches including Butch (voice of Alec Baldwin) and Ivy (voice of Susan Sarandon).

Review by David Edwards:
If you’re a dog person, you’ll undoubtedly warm to Cats and Dogs, as canines are unashamedly man’s best friends in this film. Even if you’re a cat person, there’s plenty to enjoy in this often-funny but light family entertainment.

Of course, accepting the basic premise that cats and dogs waging a covert war for control of mankind’s affections will make this a lot more pleasurable viewing, as there is nothing here for cynics. The film uses many Disney conventions in both its structure and its plotline. The film sticks very much to a tried and true formula, which will no doubt win kids over. But for adults, it means there are few surprises in the story. The antics of the participants soon wear thin, enlivened occasionally by the inventive animal characters. But it’s all been done before, even if not technically as well as this.

Where the film comes into its own is in the blending of live action, animatronics and CGI animation to create a world in which animals talk, plot and parachute into homes. The effect is so smooth and seamless that, after a while, even the most astute observer will have difficulty picking out the live action stops and the effects start. The extra features on the DVD give some insight into this, with the Teaching a Dog New Tricks featurette focussing on the processes which allowed the animals to appear so realistic.

The human actors in the piece, notably Jeff Goldblum and Elizabeth Perkins, have very confined roles, with Goldblum reprising his now familiar wacky scientist character for the film. The real fun though comes from the animal characters. As often seems to be the case in these types of films, the animal characters are served much better by the script than the human ones. While the hero of the piece is Lou (voiced by Tobey Maguire), the most consistently entertaining of these is the arch-villain, Mr Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes).

While I may be giving away a bit too much personal information here, fans of Saturday morning cartoons may remember a quirky little animated series called Pinky and the Brain. Basically, the show was about a lab rat (The Brain) that sought to take over the world with the assistance of his slow-witted sidekick (Pinky). Mr Tinkles is the “live” version of The Brain; albeit by way of Dr Strangelove. He’s completely and hilariously over-the-top; aided in no small part by some nifty animatronic work and Hayes’ voice skills.

The DVD features various “hidden” goodies that I suspect are more aimed at the children’s market. For this not-so-tech-savvy reviewer, finding the hidden items proved too much of a challenge, I’m afraid. Still, anyone under the age of 12 should have absolutely no problem with it. The other add-ons include an HBO “first look” piece that’s frankly rather bland, interesting storyboard comparisons and the usual theatrical trailers and TV spots. And the creators of the disc have thoughtfully recognised the cat people/dog people distinction by allow you to select either a “cat” or “dog” menu.

Although it has many charms, Cats and Dogs is a fairly routine and occasionally cutesy film squarely aimed at a pre-teen audience. It certainly has its moments, and the special effects are great, but the middling story and run-of-the-mill direction will probably make it something of a chore for adults. On the other hand, kids will undoubtedly love it.

Published March 28, 2002

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CAST: Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins, Tobey Maguire (voice), Susan Sarandon (voice), Alec Baldwin (voice)

DIRECTOR: Lawrence Guterman

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

SPECIAL FEATURES: : HBO First Look; “Teaching A Dog New Tricks”; storyboard comparisons; theatrical trailer; hidden features; DVD-ROM features – director’s alternate ending, create a secret identity for your pet; production and artwork galleries, screen saver, wallpaper, link to original theatrical Website

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: March 20, 2002

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