In defense of Cats & Dogs

I’d like to take a moment today to talk about one of the most important, medium defining movies ever released: Cats & Dogs.

For the uninitiated: Cats & Dogs is a 2001 documentary about the tense relationship between, uh, cats and dogs. It tells the story of a kid who gets a puppy, of a puppy who struggles to fulfill the duties of the highly trained operative he unintentionally usurped, of Jeff Goldblum’s attempts to cure human dog allergies, and of something about a soccer ball.

Cats & Dogs poster
Cats & Dogs theatrical poster, Warner Bros.

Cats & Dogs is the product of a bygone era: the talking animals live action feature film. They still exist, with Barry Sonnenfeld’s Nine Lives (in which Kevin Spacey is turned into a cat because of reasons) being the most prominent recent example, but they haven’t been the same since the mid ’90s to early 2000s streak ranging from Homeward Bound through Babe and right up to the cinematic masterpiece we’re focusing on today.

The story of Cats & Dogs is one for the ages. A lonely kid (Alexander Pollock) slowly bonds with his family’s new puppy Lou (voiced by Tobey Maguire), blissfully unaware that said puppy has become entrenched in an ongoing cold war between the world’s two most common pets as it threatens to explode.

You see, the kid’s father (Jeff Goldblum in a career-defining turn) is a scientist/crazy person working to create a cure for dog allergies. Cats, led by the menacing Mr. Tinkles (Sean Hayes), want to reverse-engineer the cure to spread dog allergies to everyone, thus enabling them to rule the world.

In other words, it’s a down to earth story that requires next to no suspension of disbelief to get into.

Cats & Dogs oscillates precariously between sentimental and cloying, amusing and irritating. It hits its spy movie spoofs as often as it misses them. Its facial animations as the animals talk only kind of make you want to claw your eyes out of your head with whatever crude tools you can find. Yet there’s still an undeniable charm to watching its beagle protagonist adapt to his dual lives as a loving pet and a super spy as the film barrels toward its inevitably sweet conclusion.

It’s not a perfect film. I’d hesitate to even call it a good one. But you should watch it, if only for one reason. Despite all its faults and flaws, Cats & Dogs gave the world one of its greatest gifts: Jeff Goldblum at his most Jeff Goldblum. And isn’t that enough?

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