Cats & Dogs (review)

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“Dogs and cats living together!”: an abomination of Biblical proportions, according to Dr. Peter Venkman, Scientist. Such does not occur in Cats & Dogs. This is a wholesome, decent family movie about household pets beating the shit out of one another, as God intended.

You can imagine the brainstorming session that produced the germ of this flick: “Let’s do a wacky animal movie! CGI rocks, man!” Littering the room are lots of half-empty Starbucks coffee cups and crumpled-up yellow legal-pad sheets scribbled with things like “You Smell Like a Monkey: Mad scientist dad accidentally turns his son into a chimp; he and his still-human sister must save the family manor from nasty realtors; hilarity ensues”; “Raining Cats and Dogs: Small-town mad scientist accidentally seeds cumulus clouds with Fluffy and Fido; poop rains down on Main Street and yokel idiot sheriff; hilarity ensues”; and, of course, “Hold Your Horses: Mad scientist rancher accidentally turns his herd of steeds into secret agents just as ex-KGBers arrive for a dude-ranch holiday; hilarity ensues.”

Speak to my agent about optioning those pitches.
Anyway, someone finally remembered his mom yelling that the kids were fighting like — wait for it — cats and dogs, and a 5-minute Warner Brothers short dragged out to feature length was born.

Didja know that cats and dogs have been fighting a battle for the place of honor at the side of human beings since time immemorial? It’s true. And now the battle has come to the upscale suburban home of Lou (the voice of Tobey Maguire: Wonder Boys, Ride with the Devil), a naive beagle puppy accidentally shuffled into an assignment calling for a trained pro: bodyguarding the human who is inventing the cure for dog allergies. Because so many people are allergic to dogs. (How many people are allergic to dogs? If you search on “dog allergy” on Google, up come lots of sites about how to cure your pooch’s sneezes — the one message board that warns that “This board is about humans being allergic to dogs, not about dogs with allergies” is still besieged with desperate pleas from the owners of Labs with sniffles. But I digress.)

Jeff Goldblum (The Prince of Egypt, The Lost World: Jurassic Park), paying the rent, is Professor Brody, your typical upscale-suburban mad scientist with a secret lab in the basement of his four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath, full-acre spread — mad science is much more lucrative than you’d imagine. He is — and this confused the hell out of the 7-year-old I saw the film with — trying to cure his own dog allergy by injecting himself with all manner of noxious potions and then sniffing Lou and gauging his reaction. You try explaining the scientific method to a second-grader in the dark without spilling your popcorn.

Bwahahahaha! The evil cats of the world — and that would be all of them, or so Cats & Dogs would have us believe — must stop Brody from making this doggy Claritin, for some reason. So few people are allergic to dogs, and dogs are already more popular pets than cats, so I can’t imagine what the cats hoped to gain. But they’ve got little tiny cat brains, so it makes sense that they’d be confused.

The “plot” is merely an excuse to throw ninja cats and secret-agent dogs at us. Cats with plans for world domination; mutts with cool computer consoles hidden in their dog houses; kitties with funny voices; dogs with celebrity voices (Alec Baldwin: Pearl Harbor; Susan Sarandon: Cradle Will Rock). It’s hilarious as hell… for about 15 minutes. I laughed so hard I cried… for 15 minutes. And then I started to wonder if beating a joke to within an inch of its life constitutes cruelty.

The kids loved the ol’ ultraviolence — Bang! Pow! Wasn’t that the coolest part, when the dog went Splat! Me, I was getting a little weirded out by the strenuous cartoon violence being visited upon such realistic-looking — if CGI- and puppet-assisted — puppies and kitty cats. It’s one thing to see Tweety Bird beat the crap out of Sylvester — toons can take anything but The Dip. But it’s quite another to see a nice orange marmalade cat get catapulted across the neighborhood. Ouch.

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