the Last Word in
|critical articles, interviews, author profiles, retro lists, genre essays, incisive media reviews|
Cats & Dogs (2001)
Director: Lawrence Gutterman
review by Emma French
Funny and diverting, Cats & Dogs never quite lives up to the excellence of its high concept. Two species secretly battling for world supremacy via an ultra-sophisticated underground espionage network is a terrific pitch, and though there is plenty done with it, flaws in both the execution and the animation detract from its achievement. Very much a film of two halves, the first half's somewhat plodding exposition, over-emphasis on the dull human characters and moments of cloying 'a boy and his dog' sentimentality feels lazy and underwritten. Fortunately the closing scenes' enhanced pace, commandeering of screen time by the real stars, the animals, and laugh out loud comic moments are surprisingly redemptive, and ensure that the film ends on a high note.
The human subplot provides 'the science part' of the story, as the obsessive research of Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum) into curing human allergies to dogs in his basement laboratory has significant implications for the feline versus canine conflict raging around him. Oblivious to both the war and his neglected wife and son, played by Elizabeth Perkins and Alexander Pollock, Goldblum gets a unwanted reality check when Mr Tinkles (voice by Sean Hayes), the superbly villainous cat leader, who eats up the screen and gets all the best one-liners, kidnaps him and his family. Despite the brilliance of the scenes where Mr Tinkles holds the family hostage, Goldblum has far too few opportunities in this film to demonstrate his considerable comedic talents. Fans of his dry humour as Jurassic Park's chaos theorist will be disappointed by the extent to which he plays it straight in Cats & Dogs. The Brody family dog, Lou (Tobey Maguire) is suitably disingenuous and puppy-like when initiated into his role as a spy dog by the gruff veteran Butch (Alec Baldwin) but lacks charisma. Miriam Margoyles is suitably grotesque as the maidservant Sophie who loves to dress Mr Tinkles in the most demeaning outfits imaginable. A rather one-note actress, her part here recalls her Nurse in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, and is also in many ways a less sinister retread of her role in End Of Days.
For a Hollywood blockbuster, the animation quality is disconcertingly variable. Facial expressions of the animals as they speak, for example, at many moments fail to convince. The script tries with varying degrees of success to pull off the double act of accessibility for kids but enough jokes to keep the adults happy that Disney animated features have led film audiences to expect. On the other hand, the gadgets, including a doghouse equipped with the type of radar equipment and tracking devices that would have made Q proud, and features such as the elite band of ninja cat assassins, are ingenious. Cats & Dogs is a fun way to pass 90 minutes at the movies and it is easy to see why children love it, but it will not be giving Shrek a run for its money on the level of artistic achievement.
Buy stuff at:
|home articles profiles interviews essays books movies competitions guidelines issues links archives contributors email|