America loves talking animals. How much does America love talking animals, you might ask? So much so that by this Christmas the Alvin & the Chipmunks film trilogy will most likely be a billion dollar grossing film franchise worldwide (I must admit, I did contribute to this total).
Are You With Us?: Cats and Dogs
By Ryan Mazie
July 5, 2011
Making a talking animal family movie is similar to opening up your own mint. These flicks are licenses to print money. So not surprisingly, this weekend Sony Pictures is releasing The Zookeeper with an array of talking animals to make enough money to buy their own zoo.
As a side note, if you want to know the second thing America loves, it is Zookeeper star Kevin James. Every live-action comedy in which he he has had a major role has grossed more than $120 million (let’s face it, can anybody really call The Dilemma a comedy?).
When picking Zookeeper's release date (originally supposed to be early October this year), Sony must have seen the success Warner Bros had this same weekend a decade earlier with Cats & Dogs. Costing a mere $60 million and raking in $200 million worldwide, Cats & Dogs proved that an investment in a talking animal puppet will go a long way.
Appealing to lovers of both animal breeds, the film opened up at the pole position with $21.7 million over its traditional three-day weekend. But with the Fourth of July falling on a Wednesday in 2001, the five-day total hit a much more impressive $35.8 million ($50 million adjusted). I was shocked that the film won the usually lucrative Independence Day frame. However, with the only other release being Scary Movie 2 (which missed the top spot by a smidge over $1 million), this was a surprisingly lame weekend.
With traditional summer legs, the film ended its run with $93.4 milion stateside. People really need to keep their money on a tighter leash (being a lover of corny wordplay, I couldn’t restrain myself any longer).
You might be wondering, what’s the plot? To be honest, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a movie with talking house pets! But for those of you who are still curious, the film imagines dogs and cats being James Bond-like spies in a war as old as the Pyramids in Egypt. The funny thing is that us humans are too oblivious and dumb to realize that any of this is happening (the movie might have a point. I mean, we shelled out over $200 million collectively to watch this crap).
While I can appreciate brain-numbing humor (I found Scary Movie 2 to still be hilarious) and corny jokes (look two paragraphs up), Cats & Dogs was not speedy but frantic. Not clever, but dim-witted. And worst of all, not dumb fun, but just plain dumb.
Written by John Requa and Glenn Ficara, I was surprised to learn that they also scripted the delightfully dirty Bad Santa and The Bad News Bears redo, as well as the under-seen Jim Carrey-starrer I Love You Phillip Morris. It turns out that these guys are better at making dirty words come out of kids’ mouths rather than appealing to them.
However, some of the jokes and sexual innuendos that are suitable for PG-audiences are fairly funny. Also, some of the James Bond spoof action sequences work better than you would imagine (anything is more funny when a dog does it!).
One of the more impressive things about the film (although common nowadays) is how realistic the animals look. With near perfect lip-sync though, it is obvious that the animals in the film are not real. It is a mixture of live-, CGI-, and puppet- animals. However, it is hard to tell when which is used, being more than with us technologically.
Jeff Goldblum and Elizabeth Perkins bring the name recognition on the human side of things. Their parts require little more than goofy facial expressions and complete obliviousness. However, they bring a little bit more dignity than you’d think to their parts, being in on the joke.
Where the talent truly lies is in the voice work. Tobey Maguire (the summer before Spider-Man) and Alec Baldwin have great chemistry with one another for all comedic purposes. However, this credit should go to the sound engineers who edited the recordings together, since it is unlikely that the two ever shared the same room while reading their lines. Sean Hayes uses his theatrical abilities to his best as the egocentric “Bad Kitty” Mr. Tinkles.
My favorite part of the movie is how the cats are the villains, since I am a total dog person.
With a mediocre screenplay but game actors, where the movie truly turns “meh” to “bleh” is with its horrible director, Lawrence Guterman. Shooting the film with as much finesse as a dog food commercial, everything is choppy and unattractive. The angles for the fight scenes are odd (he evens messes up The Matrix bullet-time spoof, how the hell do you manage that?!?!) and the pacing is as jerky as having a dog drive your car.
Lawrence lucked out with the film being a winner, but his follow-up Son of the Mask (Yes. This is a real movie.) was a giant bomb. Costing $84 million to make and grossing $17 million (the original cost $23 million and made $120 million in comparison, although this sequel is not totally apples to apples), Guterman has thankfully not been asked to make another movie since.
Critical reception of the film was better than one might think. On Rotten Tomatoes, it ranks at 54% (although among Top Critics it is at a much more deserving 37%). One of the most “pawsitive” reviews (like for last column’s Rocky & Bullwinkle) came from Roger Ebert who deemed the film worthy of three out of four stars.
After the release, there was actually much buzz for a sequel to happen although it never immediately came to fruition. Instead, adversely, Warner Bros waited until there was zero desire left for a second installment to commission the next one. In July 2010, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore was released with an even bigger A-list cast, yet nobody nipped. Shown in 3D (because why not?), the film cost $85 million yet opened with a thud to $12.3 million. Kitty managed to purr to a $43.6 million tally – a hairball in the studio’s portfolio. However, $69 million in overseas coin painted a less horrific picture. But still, gaining that much out of a franchise that looked like a wet dog is pretty impressive.
Goldblum’s character is a scientist in the movie, which got me thinking. Scientists really need to conduct a study on why talking animals cause people to pay money to see crappy movies. If you like animals, there is nothing I can say that will keep you away from seeing Cats & Dogs … but I can’t hold it against you. Even while I think/know The Zookeeper will be awful, I am still going to purchase a ticket. Can you blame me? It has a talking elephant!
Verdict: With Us
4 out of 10