Monday, April 20, 2015

Derp Blog Into Darkness #30: CATS & DOGS (2001)

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a wide variation in movies to explore, ranging from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

Because I’m a cruel bastard, my favorite types of movies to watch for my “Derp Blog Into Darkness” column are the ones that can be best classified as the “what the hell was I thinking when I bought this piece of shittt?” kind. So today was my lucky day!

CATS & DOGS is a 2001 movie, but it very much feels like a coda of the 90s: A bright, sunny color palette, an outlandish high-concept hook (yet not based on any source material!), and a mix of puppetry, CGI and Elizabeth Perkins. George Miller’s BABE would be the most obvious point of comparison here, but you can throw in a healthy dollop of the worst SHREK stereotypes to go with that. Slummin’ celebrity voice actors? Check. Lowest common denominator jokes at a breakneck pace? Check. Set pieces that are comedy chases mostly? Check.

It’s a shame, cuz the high-concept hook isn’t completely terrible. A millennia-long war between cats and dogs? Ancient Egyptians actually RULED by cats rather than simply worshipping them? This lore exposition dump happens in a little animated segment done in crude hieroglyph style, but I have to admit I laughed at the Flash player cat-pharaoh cruelties. I mean, a cat in a King Tut hat shitting all over a couple whimpering guys buried neck deep in the sand is good stuff.

The movie’s opening sequence, where a cat is being chased by a dog across an over-the-top 1950s suburban landscape is pretty good too. It’s mostly live animals running around*, knocking shit over and causing mayhem, since this is before the big reveal that cats and dogs are sentients and operate big James Bondian spy networks full of cartoony, over the top tech. There’s even a housewife who very loudly states “What a delicious pie! I shall let it cool off on this window-sill!” It’s basically a live action WB cartoon, and it made me a bit too hopeful for the rest of the movie.

The main plot centers on Lou (voiced by a pre-Spidey Tobey Maguire), a little puppy who is adopted by the Pollock family. Professor Pollock (Jeff Goldblum with hilarious sideburns and a soul patch) is close to finalizing a permanent cure for dog allergies. The cat armada, led by Mr. Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes), understandably doesn’t want this to happen. The dog faction had been shadowing Mrs. Pollock’s (Elizabeth Perkins) on her puppy-adoptin’ route and were ready to plant operatives in the litter she was bout to choose a new family member from. But oh no, adventure-hungry Lou had been GALIVANTING about and was therefore not part of the secret agent switcheroo. No doubt, he is adopted and is enrolled into the cause by default. His handler is Butch (Alec Baldwin, certain no franchises were waiting for him anymore at this point), a lab who warns Lou not to get attached to humans. Hmmm do you think mayhaps this dog has a traumatic experience and just needs to learn to… LOVE again?

The most egregious sin this movie commits is having absolutely zero trust in their audience. Mr. Tinkles sends a ninja death squad to kill Lou. Okay cool! They come in on gliders, at night, and drop into the garden to attack. I should note that I was finding some very basic amusement out of “pets doing non-pet stuff”** here, so a couple of CGI cats doing ninja shit should have been fine. But once Lou finds them out, they start squealing and screeching and tossing off bad jokes at 200 mph. If anything, they reminded me of the two Beetlejuice-like henchmen from ZEIST/the future in HIGHLANDER 2: THE QUICKENING. That sounds more fun than it is! For any chase or visual gag that sorta works, there’s a complete groaner/non-joke awkwardly ADR’d in. We need wall-to-wall laffs here!!! some producer says and the writers? They go ehhhhhhh okay main clauses qualify as jokes right?

When looking up the voice actors for this movie, its Wikipedia page also reminded me a sequel was released seven (!!) years later, with not everyone reprising their roles. Let me leave you with a hilarious bit of Wikipedia deadpanning:

Michael Clarke Duncan, Joe Pantoliano, and Sean Hayes reprise their roles as Sam, Peek, and Mr. Tinkles, while Nick Nolte and Wallace Shawn replace Alec Baldwin and Jon Lovitz as Butch and Calico; and Charlton Heston who voiced The Mastiff from the first film, died from pneumonia in April 2008.

Nobody believed in STAR WARS anymore…

*With the very strange exception of a paper boy tossing a fully CGI newspaper into a garden because…?

**Fake, stiff animal paws coming in from the edges of the screen will never NOT destroy me. Yes, this 2001 movie still uses that classic 1930s technique.

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