Truly great family films happen when audiences of all ages can enjoy what’s up on screen, from toddlers to octogenarians. These kinds of movies have deep stories with real messages, engaging characters and, typically, genuine humor. Pixar has cornered the market on this since Toy Story first came out in 1995, but there have been plenty of non-animated films that have hit this bar as well. All it takes is effort – a willingness to not just aim for the lowest common denominator and squeeze every penny out of it you can. The creators of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore were not inclined to make this effort.
A follow up to the 2001 film Cats & Dogs, the movie’s premise is that dogs and cats are not only at war, but that it’s a highly technological war filled with gadget collars and telecommunication devices hidden in food bowls. Enter Diggs (James Marsden) a police dog who has never been able to follow orders, always doing his own thing. But when a maniacal cat named Pussy Galore (Bette Midler) hatches a plot to drive every dog in the world insane, he is recruited by the top secret canine organization to stop her.
The one word that best describes this film is pabulum. Director Brad Peyton has set out to make a movie that children will get excited about and drag their parents to, thus guaranteeing success at the box office. But here is the really sick part: even children should be able to see through this mind numbing schlock. Every joke in the film is nothing more than a lame pun (“It’s a cat eat dog world,” “She’s our spilled milk and it’s our job to lick it up,” etc.) or a bad cultural reference (the previous film’s villain, Mr. Tinkles, is imprisoned in Alcatraz a la Hannibal Lecter, complete with mask and Plexiglas wall). By the time one of the animals says, “What’s up, dog?” it will take all of your strength to not bolt from the theater.
What makes the film really depressing, beyond everything else, is the talent they’ve roped in to providing the voices. The cast is ripe with top notch actors like Neil Patrick Harris, Nick Nolte, Joe Pantoliano, Christina Applegate and Wallace Shawn, but it’s hard not to imagine them sitting in the recording booth and making a face of exasperated depression after every line. Much of the voice talent involved is successful enough that they shouldn’t need to resort to paycheck jobs like these. Can Roger Moore, a former James Bond, be so hard up for money that he has to play a cat named Tab Lazenby? Why were Tobey Maguire and Alec Baldwin, who turned down roles in the sequel, the only two actors smart enough to do so?
Truth be told, I didn’t hate the first film in the series. Cats & Dogs was an interesting idea done adequately. “Adequacy” is a bar that Revenge of Kitty Galore doesn’t even come close to reaching. Every joke is predictable, dumb and half-assed. But what truly makes the movie a tragedy is the fact that this may not be the end of it: the ending sets things up for a sequel. What’s up, dog?