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The tension has been set on simmer for many years, but now their tempers have been brought to the boil. On one side the feline army is being mobilised, complete with an imposing armory of claws, knives and explosives. On the other, man’s best friend is also a cat’s worst enemy, with the canine forces preparing for the ultimate battle. Who will emerge the victor? Who will retain domestic supremacy? All out war is upon us. Let the fur fly.....

Movie
Cats & Dogs lightens up the ongoing feud between the household pets with a family-oriented comedy that combines live action, puppetry and animation. Think Beethoven meets Gremlins, with the all-too-nice storyline of the former combining with the sharper-edged comedy of the latter to get results.

Little beagle Lou (voiced by Tobey Maguire) is plucked from barnyard obscurity and placed in the loving household of the Brody family. Little does the puppy know he will soon become an agent for the neighbourhood dogs in their fight with the local cats. The reason behind the latest battle is the disappearance (the “catnapping”) of the Brody’s original canine pet, Buddy. Enlisted into the doggy force by Butch the Chief of the Agency (voiced by Alec Baldwin) and joining a kooky clan including a little electronics expert dog named Peek (Joe Pantoliano) and a big sheepdog called Sam (Michael Clarke Duncan), Lou is very young but soon learns how to deal with those sinister felines.

Cheers, big ears
The reason for the cats’ continued efforts to undermine the dogs surround the work of scientist Professor Brody, who is close to finding a cure for dog allergies. The cats want to get their paws on this formula so they can concoct an antidote and spread it all over their canine enemies. The front-cat is a wonderfully created Persian Chief, Mr.Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes to great effect). While being tormented by a woman whose only goal is to give him a big wash and dress him up in a little maid’s outfit, he still manages to rally his troops and set them to the task of household domination. Surrounding him is his sidekick Calico (John Lovitz), an incredibly funny Russian Kitty and two Ninja cats who provide the highlight of the film in their battles with Lou.

There’s no doubt young audiences will eat this up. It contains enough dog and cat real-life footage to suffice and the storyline is simple and easy to follow. The animation and puppetry is quite believable, with the characters hamming it up on screen to good effect. But it seems for such a creative premise the film hasn’t really gone all out to provide viewers with a solid bit of entertainment. The action is all too inconsistent and the outstanding social commentary and insightful observations evident in A Bug’s Life are missing from this one. One minute we are treated to a wonderful martial arts sequence (complete with the totally over-used Matrix send up) with Ninja Cats and throwing stars, but the next minute the film has gone all Disney on us and is back to showing us the relationship between Lou and his little boy owner. Yes, the film is aimed at families and children but would have been much more effective and humorous had their been less humans and more creative action. The cats are the most inventive part of the film which had me rooting for Mr.Tinkles and his buddies all along. Tobey McGuire’s Lou is just plain annoying while Susan Sarandon’s feline character left me bemused as to why it was there in the first place. But there are some winning pets in this one, again highlighting the inconsistent nature of the film. John Lovitz and Sean Hayes are inspired choices in their respective voice roles, while Jeff Goldblum does his best at being really corny for the sake of the kiddies.

Definitely not the laugh-out-loud hit that was promised in the (very effective) trailer. It’s merely a new millennium version of Milo & Otis with some computer trickery and an attempt at wholesome conflict thrown in for good measure. Your kids will love it but the brilliance that has been apparent in recent animations and family movies is somewhat lacking in this flick.

Video
Presented in 1.78:1 and 16:9 enhanced, the transfer is very impressive to say the least. Roadshow have again come up with top notch visuals, with the colourful nature of the content exploited in full. Everything from Mr.Tinkles’ wonderful white fur to the last little hair on Peek’s body comes up a treat. The only complaint I would have is that the transfer does seem a little dark at times, particularly during the numerous night scenes and in the dog kennel. Only a minor complaint though, as the sharpness is impeccable and there is no hint of aliasing or pixellation that I could find. Definitely very easy on the eye.

Puppy control room
Audio
Children’s movies don’t normally pack much punch but this one has been given the special treatment to make it sound pretty darn good. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track uses the surrounds to great effect, with many effects and ambient sounds bouncing around the rears. The music is also pretty good, playing on the comedic suspense and the numerous “action” sequences. Overall it’s nothing ground breaking but definitely sounds pretty good for a family flick.

Extras

The menu system on Cast & Dogs is actually quite unique and very impressive. Firstly, the user must select either the Cat or Dog side of the menu, pertaining to their preference in pets. This doesn’t really matter all that much because the contents are the same apart from the Easter Eggs (which I will get to shortly), but the actual menu is very impressive and certainly among the best I have seen yet.

First up is a HBO First Look Documentary that is hosted by Sean Hayes. This is the usual sort of stuff with a lot of footage from the movie, but Hayes does his best to make it a little bit different and more humourous.

There are also Storyboard comparisons which show how the storyboards match up to the final scenes. The particular scene plays out while the pictures change, making this an interesting an welcome extra. And the quality trailer is nearby too.

The Teaching A Dog New Tricks featurette contains footage from the HBO special and runs for about six minutes, dealing with how the animals were trained. It is relatively interesting but probably a once-only affair.

The rest of the DVD based features come in the form of so-called Easter Eggs. Even my mum could find these ones so they don’t really qualify in my opinion. It’s just a case of moving down to the relative symbols in each menu (there’s two on each side) and pressing enter. The first bonus feature can be accessed from the dog bone picture and features 19 concept sketches. These are mildly interesting to anyone who is really into the making of the film.

The next little bonus can be found in the dog symbol from the special features menu. This will take you to a montage of action scenes from the film, much like a trailer. Quaint.

Kitty radio
The cat menu features two more bonuses, the first being a quite funny look at a scene with Mr.Tinkles in the background complaining about the films of Hollywood. This is the sort of stuff that should have been put all through the movie, but alas, we find it here. This can be found by going to the Evil Cat symbol. The last “easter egg” is contained in the spiky ball on the extra features menu, which takes you to the funniest extra on the disc. Here, Mr.Tinkles is seen in “audition” tapes for various Hollywood blockbusters, including The Catinator and On The Litterfront. Pretty good stuff.

The rest of the bonus features are, peculiarly, contained in a DVD-ROM section. Why they have included things like an alternate ending only on the ROM section is beyond me, particularly as Windows Millenium users need to go to a website and get an update just to see the stuff. That said, the alternate ending is pretty interesting, especially as it hinted at a sequel. There is also some screensavers, wallpaper, picture gallery and an identity creator where you can superimpose a picture of your pet into the program to create a picture. The Interactual player isn’t exactly the easiest piece of software to run but the content is pretty good.

Overall the extras section was pretty disappointing save for some witty hidden extras. We don’t get the commentary from the Region 1 version which is very disappointing. This is one film that technical information would have been most welcome. Maybe they thought Australian kiddies wouldn’t listen. Ho hum.

Overall
I was pretty disappointed by this release. What I thought was going to be a decent flick turned into a child friendly but ultimately wimped-out piece of family fun. The witty observations on the world of cats and dogs weren’t explored in full and the entertaining scenes were too often spoiled by over-zealous attempts to please the little ones. The video and audio were of a high standard so there were no complaints there. The extras were pretty average and the decision to place the alternate ending on the DVD-ROM section was bizarre to say the least. Overall, it will please the kids but not much else.


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