The talking animal film isn’t the proudest subgenre of the children’s entertainment world, but gosh darn if it doesn’t have the tenacity of a cockroach with a knack for smalltalk. Critics can universally deride them for lacking any substance for kids or their parents, but the studios continue marching them down death row where we, the critically minded, tear them to pieces – only to see them reconstitute a few months later as a sequel or a whole new franchise. Call it a hydra or call it a zombie Jesus, the point is the same: this genre won’t die, so sit back, relax, and hope your kid grows tired of cat and dog slapstick accented by computer-generated mouth movements.
Cats & Dogs imagines the world of pets to be fraught with clandestine operations whilst people walk about unaware. The feline and canine war has raged for as long as anyone can remember (when did popular culture decide cats and dogs were mortal enemies?), and the battle takes a sudden turn for the worse for the dogs when a longtime agent is abducted by the evil cat clan. Straight up I think it’s interesting that cats were labeled as the villains in the domesticated animal world as opposed to introducing a third party like raccoons, moles, or squirrels. I can understand the idea that cats are evil, but it’s an odd idea to plant in the mind of a child. Anyway, to rescue their captured comrade, the canines craft a crusade around a young recruit named Lou, a beagle Pup voiced by Tobey Maguire, who receives instruction from the wiser Butch (Alec Baldwin). As the pup becomes a pooch we pique our ears to identify the parade of actors playing each part, including Sean Hayes (as the evil villain Mr. Tinkles), Susan Sarandon, Joe Pantoliano (as the espionage dog), Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Lovitz, and even Charlton Heston.
For parents the novelty of animals talking via CGI-enhanced mouths won’t last long and definitely won’t overshadow the painfully inept staging of even the most basic slapstick comedy bits that both canines and felines alike are subjected to in missions gone awry. It could almost be summarized as a live action Tom & Jerry episode (but between a dog and a cat) and if you accept the shoddy CGI used to create the animals, maybe you’ll forget it was ever live-action at all and treat the whole thing like one long, over the top cartoon. And yet, it’s the performances of Jeff Goldblum and Elizabeth Perkins that lend the film any decency whatsoever. Goldblum plays a distant, scientist whom, when his wife (Perkins) reminds him, also moonlights as a father figure to the film’s child star who starts off as a cat-person and discovers his new beagle (Lou) truly is man’s best friend (“man” being a non-age-exclusive term here).
All of these aforementioned issues wouldn’t make a lick of a difference in a Blu-ray transfer if the format wasn’t about accentuating the visual and audio attributes of a film – but that’s exactly the point of the format. You could argue at that point that the voice acting, which isn’t half-bad but wholly undeserved considering the film as a final product, gets a decent bump, but voices aren’t the audio that Blu-ray makes more visceral. It’s the explosions, the epic, sweeping scores. Cats & Dogs doesn’t have much in the way of these things. Visually, there’s no worse fate for a film rendered in poor CGI than a transfer to a hi-def format where the faults that were only mildly annoying in SD become glaring potholes on the road to entertainment bliss.
There are better choices for family film Blu-ray purchases.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
After a witless audio commentary courtesy of Director Lawrence Guterman, a Producer, and Production Designer, you can move on to five production featurettes including a making of, the animal training, and a mocked up audition tape for the villain courtesy of Mr. Hayes. The collection is rounded out with storyboards and concept sketches.
"Cats & Dogs" is on sale July 20, 2010 and is rated PG. Adventure, Children & Family, Comedy. Directed by Lawrence Guterman. Written by John Requa & Glen Ficarra. Starring Alec Baldwin, Elizabeth Perkins, Jeff Goldblum, Joe Pantoliano, Jon Lovitz, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sean Hayes, Susan Sarandon, Tobey Maguire.