Cats and Dogs Review

The Movie
Unbeknown to the human population of the world, their supposedly docile cats and dogs have long been fighting a highly sophisticated war. One group of dogs have been assigned to protect the Brody household, because Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum) is working on a cure for dog allergies. The cats obviously aren’t keen on this and set about attempting to sabotage it. When the cats capture the current agent his replacement goes wrong and it ends up going to inexperienced puppy Lou (voiced by Toby Maguire). He suddenly has to defend the Brody’s house from a cat onslaught, including cat ninjas and a particularly vicious Russian mercenary cat. All this is being led by head baddie cat Mr Tinkles who plans to steal Professor Brody’s formula and reverse it, making all humans allergic to dogs.

After some poor cinematic reviews, a low rating on IMDB and an opinion going round that this film was only suitable for very young children, I was expecting this to be one of those films (like the second Austin Powers movie) where the only funny bits were in the trailer, and the rest of the film would be poor. So I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong about that, as I was laughing all the way from start to finish. It is just a silly family movie, but it’s very well written and frequently very, very funny. Turning the cats and dogs into participants of a spy movie does work well, particularly helped by John Debney’s music being a pastiche of Mission Impossible. The voice actors all do a great job including Toby Maguire’s Michael J Fox take on hero Lou, and others such as Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Jon Lovitz and even Charlton Heston.

Cats and Dogs might not appeal if you are a big cat lover, as they are portrayed as the evil enemy, with dogs being the nice guys, and man’s true best friend. However, the cats have some of the best characters in the movie. Chief baddie Mr Tinkles – expertly voiced by Sean Hayes – is an excellent baddie as he attempts world domination whilst being dressed up in outfits by his owner: “Evil does not wear a bonnet!” The ninja cats are hilarious, with their “bullet time” fight with Lou. Best of all is “The Russian” who has to be one of the best screen villains I’ve seen for a long while (seriously!), switching from cute kitten to evil and vicious mercenary with his armoury of “hairball” weapons.

The special effects are generally very well done. The animals are portrayed by a mixture of real animal actors, computer generated imagery and animatronics. The CG overlays on the cat and dogs faces are very well done; for an example of the detail look closely at the expressions on cat and dog faces when they are thrown through the air and come into the camera. If there is a weak link here it is the animatronics as it is the only bit that can sometimes look very artificial and occasionally a bit, well, naff. If there are any other downsides there are obviously a few “cutesy” moments between Lou and his boy owner – well there would be given that it’s a family film – but they are mercifully brief as the majority of the film is given over to hilarious action sequences. Speaking of which, the running time is a pretty short 87 minutes (which will make it very short on region 2).

In summary, this is a very funny action comedy with lots of great sequences that is really a lot of fun. It is a movie for kids, but it’s funny for adults as well. Recommended.

When this disc was first announced it was only going to be a pan-and-scan version, which would obviously have been a travesty. Fortunately, Warner has released this fully anamorphic widescreen version, and very good it is too. The film features many scenes featuring bold, primary colours, and they are reproduced faithfully. Close-ups of the animals in particular reveal the extreme clarity of the image and although it looks perhaps a little over-bright at times, I’ll put that down to the way my player handles region 1 discs. First rate.

The soundtrack is, like the picture, also good quality. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track has plenty of power, clarity and lots of directional effects. Very good.

There is also a French-Canadian 5.1 track provided.

Video Extras
Firstly, when starting the disc you are asked if you want to go into the cat zone or the dog zone, a different version of the menus is then displayed. This is a bit more than cosmetic as a number of features can only be accessed from one side or the other – more about that later. The extras themselves are:

The HBO First Look Special runs for about fifteen minutes and is introduced by Mr Tinkles voice actor Sean Hayes. These HBO specials are usually a bit better than the standard promo and this one is no exception. It features interviews with the stars, training the animals, and plenty on the special effects. As the special effects include both computer generated and animatronics, there is a good deal of interesting stuff here.

Complimenting this is Teaching a New Dog New Tricks which goes into the production, animal training and special effects in a bit more detail. It’s only six minutes long but it packs quite a bit in.

There is a commentary featuring director Lawrence Guterman, producer Chris Defaria, production designer James Bissell and actor Sean Hayes. Actually it’s really Guterman, Defaria and Bissell together, with Hayes recorded separately and only popping up when his character Mr Tinkles is on screen. The main trio have plenty of interesting information, such as how many key scenes almost got dropped from the movie and how to digitally fix continuity in scenes when they have been re-ordered in the film. One problem that you won’t hear very often is how to design animatronics and CG for a star of the movie who hasn’t even been born yet!

The Storyboard Comparisons section shows the ninja cat sequence in two windows; one showing the storyboards and the other the finished sequence.

The Theatrical Trailer is here, presented in anamorphic format and with 5.1 sound, though the picture quality is not as good as the main feature.

Finally there is what I would term not very hidden features in as much as they are not labelled directly but are on the up and down clicking route of each special features menu and so easily found. Here is where you need to visit both the cat and dog menu as there are two on each. The dog menu features concept sketches and a Dogs rule! Montage. The cat menu features a different version of Mr Tinkles speech and – the best of the lot - Mr Tinkles screen tests featuring some really corny readings for Catsablanca and The Catinator among others.

DVD ROM Extras
What makes this disc worthy of a good extras mark is the decent amount of DVD ROM content present. These include:

My Pet’s Secret Identity is a little program that allows you to import a picture of your own cat or dog and insert it into a picture from the movie then print it out as a secret identity card. As Tim Robbins said in The Hudsucker Proxy, “You know, for kids”.

The Director’s Alternate Ending features a QuickTime movie of a far more pro-cat and sequel friendly ending, and I personally preferred it. Obviously as it’s a QuickTime movie there is no director’s commentary, although it was mentioned in the main commentary. One question: why is this on the ROM section of the disc and not the video side – like every other deleted scene on a DVD?

The Original Movie Gallery features a number of pictures of artwork from the movie and conceptual sketches.

There are Screensavers and Wallpaper here; choose your preference as to whether you want cat or dog versions.

Finally there is the usual Weblink though it takes you only to the main Warner site as the official site for the movie itself no longer appears to exist.

Final Thoughts
This is a very funny movie that was much better than I had hoped and much better than many of the critics would have you believe. After initial concerns that there would be only a pan-and-scan version, this widescreen transfer is very good indeed. There are a reasonable number of extras on the disc, but you can knock two or three points off the score if you don’t have access to a DVD-ROM. Nonetheless, recommended – except perhaps if you are an ardent cat lover!

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