Director: Lawrence Guterman
Cast: Tobey Macguire, Alec Baldwin, Sean Hayes, Alexander Pollock, Susan Sarandon, Joe Pantoliano, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Lovitz with Elizabeth Perkins and Jeff Goldblum
Plot: As a scientist (Goldblum) works on a cure for dog allergies, a secret service of dogs protect the project from an evil organisation made up of cats.
Cats & Dogs is the kind of film with such a winning premise, when the rest of the story is a cheesy pile of inconsistencies, it still emerges intact. Some might call it cheating; others might call it a smart use of what the public actually wants. Pets have a special place in our hearts and all pet owners love the thought of there being more to their beloved animals than meets the eye. Who hasn’t wished that the loyal nature of dogs was more than a faithful companion, but an all-powerful protector? And who hasn’t suspected that their cat is secretly planning the end of the world in their free time? It is a winning idea and Cats & Dogs run full tilt with it in a film that can only be described as a cross between Beethoven and Spy Kids. Lou, voiced with earnest emotion by Tobey Macguire, is the Beagle puppy that accidentally finds himself in an age-old war between a secret intelligence operation run by dogs (a smart cameo from Charlton Heston himself cements the spy formula at play here), and a secret criminal society run by cats. The story is essentially a pleasant stroll through spy movie cliches, but the heroes and villains replaced with furry alternatives. It means that there are lengthy segments where Cats & Dogs don’t really bother to try anything original. Lou’s accidental hero is the typical underdog character in most buddy spy or cop movies. Men in Black’s secret button is copy and pasted in, only with a Labrador replacing Tommy Lee Jones. Character development is a bunch of stereotypes amusingly stapled together, doubling for depth. The cats aren’t given any motive, other than “we are cats, therefore inherently evil”. Yet somehow it all feels fresh and reworked on animals. It turns out you can get away with a hell of lot, simply by cutting to an adorable Doberman.
This is a film that relies on its icing on the cake, rather than the cake itself. Yes, this whole film is unoriginal, but it tells its story with such flair and personality that you can watch it multiple times before even twigging. Lou, the puppy beagle, is useless until the heart-warming finale, yet still climbs the spy ranks through his accidental acts of heroism. Yet, using the simple trick of getting a dog to cock it head and look cute, no one notices. This film fires jokes at a hundred miles an hour, fleshing out simple scenes with constant laughs. Sean Hayes as the megalomaniacal cat behind the evil scheme is the stand-out voice actor here, never not being hilariously amusing as the nemesis. It is the casual cruel remarks that the actor purrs out in the quieter moments. He is the very essence of the lazy cruelty of cats and is a stand-out favourite for being so. There is a joke for all pet lovers here, whether Cats & Dogs is joking about how classic dog traits (drinking from the toilet, sniffing each other’s behinds), are actually cover stories for their spy antics. Sometimes, the movie is showing surprising wit, like a scene where Charlton Heston gets an entire room of dog operatives’ attention by barking “Sit!” Or like any good children’s movie, there are the jokes that you missed as a child, but are sent into sniggering fits as an adult. “Son of my mum!” a Labrador remarks. Perhaps this isn’t a lazy film at all, but a movie that saves its intelligence for the smaller beats, the beats which matter most to the children watching this movie. Where cute animals are concerned, does the plot need any additional depth? Do the characters need to be any more than strict older dog or cunning cat? Perhaps not. Instead we can enjoy hefty spy movie action sequences, like an adorable Russian kitten infiltrating the family household as an undercover agent or Siamese cat ninjas being sent in to take out the puppy (question: is this a clever reference to the Lady and the Tramp’s Siamese villains?). By the time, the movie fully embraces the secret agent formula with a world-dominating plot that needs to be foiled, you are too wrapped up in the fun to care too much.
Final Verdict: Cats & Dogs finds a gap in the market that helps it coast through a simple tale of dogs fighting cats in an undercover war. Little more is needed.