Although it hasn't been a good Summer for just about every other genre, family entertainment got a hefty boost from "Shrek", which went on to become the year's top grosser so far. Although "Shrek" is begining to slow down, there's another movie right behind it that's a worthy successor. "Antz" director Larry Gutterman has taken one of nature's oldest battles and turned it into zippy, high-energy entertainment that's witty and wonderfully animated.
In "Cats and Dogs", Jeff Goldblum plays scientist professor Brody, who is about to come up with a formula that will solve the problem of some humans being allergic to dogs. This sends a scare through the cat community, as this would give dogs the upper hand in the pet population. This causes the canine agents to be on patrol, including the local leader, Butch (voice of Alec Baldwin). After the latest agent on the case got sent to retirement, its time to put another dog on guard so that the cats can't catnap the formula. After a bit of an error, Mrs. Brody (Elizabeth Perkins) briings in a puppy (voice of Tobey Maguire) into the house rather than the agent that had been planned to come in.
Elsewhere, Mr. Tinkles (voice of "Will and Grace"'s Sean Hayes) is a persian kitty planning to snatch the formula and take over the world while he's at it, with the non-help of his assistant (voiced wonderfully by Jon Lovitz). Two main action sequences are brilliantly staged - in one, Lou must take on a crew of feline Ninjas and the other one, which has some of the film's best lines has a cute Russian Blue doing a sneak attack, bringing his own arsenal into the house.
There's several things that are remarkable about the movie. First of all are the special effects; where "Dr. Dolittle" has the mouths of animals moving simply, the effects here make those look primitive. Rhythm and Hues, who were suprisingly also responsible for "Dr. Dolittle 2", not only has the mouths of both the cats and dogs moving convincingly, but gives them hilariously lively and natural expressions - they frown, smile, etc. Even the fight sequences and a few other moments are so realistic looking that I was greatly impressed. Almost as impressive as the creature animation is the dog's lair, which is outfitted with the latest in spy technology. The other element that I thought was exceptional was the screenplay by first time writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, which is not only smart, sharp and very funny, but has a few really great jokes that only adults will get - like "Shrek", the movie contains an equal amount of humor for both young and old.
Praise also has to go to a few other groups. Although the humans (thankfully) don't get much in the way of screentime, Goldblum, Perkins and Alexander Pollock as their son do a fine job. Best of the character voices is Sean Hayes, who makes Mr. Tinkles a wonderfully diabolical villian and Lovitz as Calico. Maguire makes an energetic hero as well, and Baldwin does his "Pearl Harbor" voice over again as Butch.
Last, but not least, look for bright, lively cinematography from Julio Macat (whose work on "The Wedding Planner" will also be able to be viewed on DVD starting this week as well) and a fun, fast score from the almost-always reliable John Debney. "Cats and Dogs" isn't quite perfect, but it's a suprisingly fresh, fun and energetic piece of Summer entertainment that all ages can enjoy. Highly Recommended.
(Movie Review written Summer, 2001)
VIDEO: Warner Brothers presents "Cats and Dogs" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (make sure you're picking up the widescreen version with the red bar across the top of the front of the box!). The image quality, as expected from recent Warner presentations, is just a few minor steps short of perfection. Sharpness and detail are extremely good throughout the entire film, as even the fur on the creatures seemed to be consistently well-defined.
I only noticed a few very minor faults with the presentation - a slight bit of shimmering on a house or two during the film, as well as a couple of tiny specks on the print used. Other than that, I noticed no instances of edge enhancement or pixelation. Colors appeared extremely vibrant and beautiful throughout the entire film, looking wonderfully well-saturated and free of problems. Black level was strong, while flesh tones (and fur tones) remained accurate and natural. An extremely good presentation from Warner Brothers.
SOUND: "Cats and Dogs" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Given the fact that this is a comedy, the film's audio does, as expected, stay within the front speakers for quite a few of the film's scenes. But, given the fact that the film has some more lively and high-tech elements than the average picture in the genre, the film's sound mix does come to life nicely at times. Surrounds mainly highlight John Debney's lively score, but also chime in nicely with the occasional fun sound effect. The most agressive sequences are the two main action sequences - "Ninja Cats" (where the voices of the ninjas can be heard in the surrounds a few times during their attack) and "The Russian Blue". A few slight ambient sounds also come from the surrounds during the outdoor sequences.
Sound quality remained enjoyable throughout the picture; the score had strong presence and filled the room nicely. Sound effects also sounded crisp, while dialogue sounded clear and easily understood. Fine audio - while not always agressive, there is at least a moderate amount of activity.
MENUS:: "Cats and Dogs" contains what I believe to be one of the more irritating sets of menus in recent memory. Although it's a fun idea (I suppose) to have the viewer select either "cats" or "dogs" at the main menu, it takes too long to get to that set of menus and each set of menus has slightly different features. Nicely animated, but a little too much.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Laurence Gutterman, producer Chris Defaria, production designer James Bissel and actor Sean Hayes. The first three discuss the film throughout the majority of the running time, while Hayes offers discussion during the scenes he's in. Some retailers have noted that there were going to be separate "cat" and "dog" commentaries, but that idea seems to have been dropped somewhere along the way, since there's only one track on the final product.
The participants really do seem to enjoy the commentary process and do a fine job filling the track with both some entertaining jokes and stories about the making of the film as well as some chat about a few of the more technical details of accomplishing the creature animation and other obstacles, such as working with the animal co-stars. A fun track and not very technical, so some children may enjoy finding out more about how the film was made.
Mr. Tinkles' Audition Tapes: A joke reel, this has Tinkles trying out for such films as "The 6th Scratch". Sorta funny. You'll find this hidden on the "Special Features" page in the "cats" section.
HBO - First Look Making Of: Hosted by actor Sean Hayes, this is a mixed bag. While much of it is promotional and spends time discussing the feature that you've just seen, there were also some interesting sections on the effects work, anamatronic puppet creation and live animal training. The documentary is a little under 14 minutes - get past the first half and the second half provides more interesting information.
Teaching a New Dog New Tricks: A 6 minute featurette, this details how the live animal training was done and also looks at the roles which special effects and animatronic animals played in the film.
Trailers: The theatrical trailer is included in the "special features" menu. A "promo trailer" is hidden in both the "cats" and "dogs" features menus.
Storyboard Comparison: Storyboard-to-screen comparison for the "Ninja Cat" sequence.
Concept Sketches: This gallery is "hidden" in the special features menu of the "dog" section.
DVD-ROM: I don't have a working DVD-ROM to check these features out, but the back of the box lists: director's alternate ending (why is this on the DVD-ROM portion?), production art gallery, screensavers, wallpaper, link to the original theatrical website and future web events.
Final Thoughts: While not without flaws (any part of the film focusing on the human characters and not the animals is generally weak), I found the majority of "Cats and Dogs" to be a clever and funny film the whole family can enjoy. The DVD offers a fantastic widescreen presentation, strong audio and a few entertaining supplements. Recommended, but make sure you find the widescreen edition.
The Film ***
Video 94/A = (376/400 possible points)
Audio: 89/B+ = (356/400 possible points)
Extras: 82/B = (246/300 possible points)
Menus: 75/C = (150/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ***
DVD GRADE: B