A heinous villain set on world domination. A group of handpicked secret agents equipped with enough high tech gadgetry to send Bill Gates into spasms of jealousy. A secret serum that could make or break mankind’s future. The battle begins!
No, we’re not talking about Mission: Impossible 3. Instead of blazing away at baddies with reams of ammunition, the critters of Cats & Dogs spend their time chasing balls, their tails, mice and each other. But—à la Toy Story—underneath the seemingly normal world of pets, an eternal struggle rages. Diabolical feline Mr. Tinkles is bent on returning cats to their "rightful" position as rulers of the earth, but to do so he must frustrate the plans of Professor Brody who has nearly completed a potion that will eliminate all of the suffering in the world. All the suffering caused by dog allergies, that is. Naturally, this discovery would propel lovable canines into millions of homes around the globe where they would protect humanity from brutal kitty oppressors. Mr. Tinkles’ cadre of cat assassins and ne’er-do-wells refuses to take this lying down—although they might pause to snatch a saucer of milk before enacting their evil plans. It’s up to a team of canine commandos headed by the unflappable Butch and clueless puppy Lou to save the world.
positive elements: One of the main themes of C&D is vocation—how does one integrate profession with family and fun? Happily enough, family and fun are one and the same in the film. All in all, C&D comes to some remarkably family-friendly conclusions. Lou initially wants to eschew home life to "sample the great bones of Europe." By the end of the film he concludes that domestic tranquility is preferable to Butch’s consuming, high-stress life as a spy. Similarly, Professor Brody is initially so entranced in his research that he neglects his family. He disappears into his basement lab for hours. He doesn’t have time to help Scott practice for his soccer tryout. He forgets to attend the tryout after promising that he would. Finally, after heeding his wife’s chastisement, the Professor postpones his research at a crucial point to take the whole family to a soccer exhibition. Nevertheless, the Brody’s relationships are remarkably healthy for Hollywood families. The family is stable and two-parent. Mrs. Brody praises Scott. Scott tells both of his parents that he loves them and is generally an obedient child. While he is moody for awhile and chafes against Lou’s inclusion in the household, the lovable puppy breaks through his melancholy. The doggie agents regularly exhibit self-sacrifice, courage, commitment and love in their protection of humans.
spiritual content: Aside from Professor Brody saying "God bless you" to another scientist before hanging up the phone, the film’s "spirituality" comes from a half-dozen misuses of God’s name. One agent makes the sound-alike exclamation, "Oh my dog."
sexual content: A few innuendoes crop up, most mild and likely to go over children's heads. But in one scene, Mr. Tinkles’ owner, a comatose millionaire, suddenly stops breathing when his nurse places the cat in his lap. His EKG jumps and the nurse says, "See how happy you make him?"
violent content: C&D runs like a live-action cartoon. In the beginning a dog cat-apults a kitty hundreds of feet into the air. The beleaguered feline smashes into a house then gets back up with offended aplomb. Scenes like this abound. Critters get crashed and bashed in a number of light-hearted and relatively innocuous ways. Commenting on the violence in the movie, director Larry Guterman says, "In pure animation you can have the animated knight get smashed and fall off the edge of a cliff. But in our movie you would think, ‘Oh, the dog’s getting hurt.’" Hence the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote-style banter.
Despite his reassurances, however, the photo-realism of C&D is quite intense. Ninja cats batter Lou for an extended period with extreme close-ups and slow-motion replays. A Russian assassin cat hurls razor sharp spikes and knives at Butch and Lou (Warner Bros. reportedly axed a scene where Lou gets pinned to the wall, but the sequence remains tense enough as is). The final confrontation with Mr. Tinkles also features plenty of action. Because its creators chose to parody the spy genre of films, some violence is inevitable. Though Guterman did a fairly good job in keeping the combat age-appropriate, some scenes may be too scary for young eyes.
crude or profane language: Although no profanity surfaces, one canine exclaims, "Son of my mom!" Scatological references are also prevalent. Dogs chat about bodily processes and, after being framed for relieving himself on the rug, Lou protests, "That steamer was bigger than me!" Before the final mission, Butch comments, "Don’t wet the paper just yet." And to say Mr. Tinkles’ has an acid tongue would be putting it mildly: he constantly rebuffs and scorns his sidekicks. Though everything the psychotic Persian indulges in is presented in a bad light, parents will want to make sure kids don't leave the theater imitating the cruel cat’s attitude.
drug and alcohol content: None.
conclusion: Dog lovers will leave the theater tempted to buy Bowser a sirloin, so valiant are the exploits of the crack team of canines. Cat lovers (such as myself) will leave feeling as if they’d been dealt a bad hand, so wicked are Mr. Tinkles and his cronies. Feline fans, you've been warned.
Cats & Dogs is, ironically, miles more creative that the films it parodies, namely the Mission: Impossible franchise. Parents can applaud its noble themes, stare in awe at its technical wizardry and enjoy the shenanigans of its four-footed protagonists. But iffy humor and some over-the-top, cartoonish violence might make them think twice about bringing the little ones. Critic Michael Elliott noted that "filmmakers come close to shooting themselves in the foot by including small doses of humor which many might deem crude or inappropriate for young children, their target audience." Well put.