It continues as a minor annoyance to see studios release mediocre material on Blu-ray when they have so many worthier titles in their catalogues. But I suppose this is what happens when studios issue sequels or remakes to theaters; they promote the new theatrical films with DVD or Blu-ray editions of the originals, whether they're any good or not. Such is the case with "Cats & Dogs," a 2001 fantasy-comedy with Jeff Goldblum and Elizabeth Perkins, now on high-definition Blu-ray disc.
Screenwriters John Requa and Glen Ficarra came up with an appealing premise: We all know that from the beginning of time cats and dogs have been fighting with one another; what we didn't know is that cats and dogs are as smart as humans, they can speak whatever language is native to their country, and they have vast, secret organizations to help them in their eternal war with one another.
The idea in the movie is to parody the old "Get Smart" series, with good guys (dogs) and bad guys (cats), complete with music reminiscent of the old "Get Smart" shows, and to do it all up in the manner of the high-octane "Babe: Pig in the City" movie and old Looney Tunes cartoons. Yet "Cats & Dogs" has none of the wit of "Get Smart," none of the charm of either of the "Babe" movies, and none of the frenzied spirit of the Looney Tunes cartoons. The opening sequence sets the tone, the Brody family dog chasing a cat in slapstick fashion, running into trees and flying through the air, with a gang of cats finally catnapping him and carting him away in a van. The humor even includes a pie in the face, with all of it falling flat. This is going to be juvenile caricature the whole way, so adults had better beware.
Once the cats have the Brody dog, the dog network jumps into action. Remember the elaborate headquarters for Maxwell Smart's secret agency? It's duplicated here, only with dogs in control. The dogs have a huge underground complex as their headquarters with none other than Charlton Heston as the voice of the head mastiff.
So, why did the cats catnap this particular dog? It's because the father in the Brody family, Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum), is a scientist working on a formula to combat human allergies to dogs. If he can perfect a cure, no humans will ever again be allergic to canines. And the cats can't stand it. The cats, lead by the evil Mr. Tinkles (Sean Hayes), are out to stop the professor from perfecting the formula. At the same time, the cats are out to take over the world, as any good bad guys would want to do. Needless to say, Mr. Tinkles is a fluffy white cat resembling Ernst Stavio Blofeld's cat in the early Bond films, and Mr. Tinkles has the same organization of evildoers around him that Blofeld had in SPECTRE.
Into the midst of these goings on, the dogs mistakenly place a beagle puppy named Lou (voiced by Tobey Maguire) whom they think is a trained superspy. Nope, he's just a sweet little beagle pup, and he's our hero. He's got to protect his new master from the cats' evil machinations.
The cutesy factor in the movie is overwhelming, nay, overpowering. The cute, cuddly little animals, especially the beagle pup and the Brody kid (Alexander Pollock), are sugary enough to keep a person awake without sleep for a week.
Then we get fart gags. We get poo gags. We get butt-sniffing gags. We get a nerdy dad (Goldblum) and a dopey mother (Elizabeth Perkins). We get an ever-so-cute kid. We get a flock of cuddly canines and a gang of nasty cats. And we get almost nonstop, meaningless motion. As I say, children may love it. This adult didn't.
I didn't even care for the multitude of famous actors voicing the animals: the aforementioned Maguire and Heston; plus Alec Baldwin as a superspy dog; Joe Pantoliano as a tech-savvy dog; Michael Clarke Duncan as a big, shaggy dog; Susan Sarandon as a sexy stray dog; Jon Levitz as Mr. Tinkle's henchman; even CNN's Wolf Blitzer as a doggie news announcer. Nothing helps, including the game of spot-that-voice.
Lawrence Guterman directed the film, his only other big-screen credits at the time of this writing being "Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland" and "Son of the Mask." Guterman's heavy hand and leaden pacing don't help matters. Continual frenzied activity and a satisfying forward momentum do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Nor can Goldblum save the day because the movie simply makes his character a fool, an absentminded professor who must suffer the added humility of wearing funny hats and being draped with endless electrical wires; besides, the script gives him only limited screen time.
The humor in "Cats & Dogs" is so immature that after only a short while I found myself actually starting to hate the picture. What I kept thinking was, the James Bond and Maxwell Smart references are probably going to go right over a child's head, yet they're so obvious to an adult they may only annoy. They did me.
Nevertheless, it is the movie's relentless silliness that children will probably find engaging, so for them, I have to say more power to it.
The Warner video engineers use a single-layer BD25 and a VC-1 codec to reproduce the movie in its original aspect ratio, 1.85:1, with mixed results. The colors are very bright, appropriately cartoonish bright, but beyond the brilliant hues, the PQ is not much to care about. Everything looks well scrubbed and polished, with faces, which are too dark, anyway, appearing smoothed over, veiled, and pasty. Black levels are moderate, with more shadowy areas of the screen seeming dingy. Definition, too, is merely ordinary, not much better than upscaled standard-def most of the time. Nevertheless, the bright hues carry the day and give the impression that all is well.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is the best part of the picture, and even that has a limited appeal. We find a wide stereo spread; a nice, ambient bloom in the music accompaniment; a warm, easily listenable midrange; and an abundance of animal noises in the surrounds. Still, there is not much deep bass or dynamic impact, so there isn't all that much joy here, either.
We get a whole lot of extras on this "Things Are Gonna Get Hairy" edition, most of which, unfortunately, don't amount to much. Leading off is an audio commentary by director Lawrence Guterman, producer Chris DeFaria, production designer James Bissell, and actor Sean Hayes (who gets aced out of credit on the keep case). After that are five featurettes: "HBO First Look: The Making of Cats & Dogs," about fourteen minutes; "Teaching a New Dog New Tricks," about six minutes; "Mr. Tinkles' Audition Tape," "Dogs Rule," and "Mr Tinkles' Speech," about a minute or so each, all of them in standard definition and either in 1.33:1 ratios or 1.85:1 non-anamorphic.
Things conclude with a series of storyboard comparisons and concept sketches; twenty-five scene selections; trailers at start-up for the new "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" movie and video game; English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages (most of which the keep case ignores); Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles (again, most of which the keep case ignores); and English and German captions for the hearing impaired (the keep case failing to mention the German captions). It's a shame the people who write the keep-case notes apparently don't get to see the disc they're writing about first.
Oh, and for the time being at least, the folks at Warner Bros. are enclosing with each disc a coupon worth up to $7.50 toward the purchase of an admission ticket to the 3-D theatrical release of "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore."
There is no doubt in my mind that young children would love "Cats & Dogs." It's got enough pure energy, cuteness, and tomfoolery to satisfy probably most kids. That said, I also have to admit that whatever you may think, I am not a kid, and I found almost every minute of the movie a bore. For this adult, the humor was labored and juvenile, the action frenetic, the jokes lacking subtlety or wit, the characters shallow and two-dimensional. But we'll always have the sequel.