Dogs and cats, living together ... mass hysteria? Maybe not so much.
While these animals were resourceful and well-equipped enemies in the original "Cats & Dogs" from 2001, now they're forced to band together to fight a common foe in the sequel "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore."
As you can tell from the name, this is a spy send-up, specifically of James Bond movies — the opening titles alone are super clever, an indication of the kind of eye for detail that's in store throughout — and from there, the jokes fly fast and furious along with the fur. Surprisingly, most of them work in the script from Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich. But as directed by Brad Peyton, the sequel is a mix of live action, puppetry and computer animation, and the jumbled look is its chief weakness: The animals are cute and all, but the visual effects that suggest they're talking too often look jumpy and fake.
You want your talking-animal movies to be realistic, don't you? That's not too much to ask.
And of course, because it's a family film coming out this summer, it's in 3-D. It probably didn't need to be — it never needs to be — but at least the effects are more convincing than they were in, say, a lousy conversion from 2-D like "The Last Airbender." They're even more effective in the cartoon that precedes "Cats & Dogs," a new Looney Tunes offering that's old-school in spirit, featuring Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. You could probably watch those guys go at it for an hour and a half and be totally satisfied.
Still, it's a delightful idea that cats and dogs not only enjoy a rich interior life while adults are away, but also function as highly trained super spies, complete with elaborate gadgetry. You know you've wondered this yourself about your own furry friends at home.
So you may find yourself laughing the whole way through, even at a take-off on "The Silence of the Lambs," a film that's been parodied ad infinitum. Still, when it's the fluffy, white feline Mr. Tinkles strapped up in a cell, wearing that infamous mask — and voiced again by Sean Hayes — it adds another layer to the joke that's at once twisted and kinda sweet.
This time, the self-styled uber-villain is Kitty Galore, whose hairless appearance is frightening enough. As voiced with campy menace by the great Bette Midler — who really should do more of this sort of thing — she's an over-the-top, diabolical drama queen. But in a good way.
Kitty has a plan to enslave dogs around the world and make cats the true rulers. The secret agents of DOG — led by Lou the beagle (Neil Patrick Harris) and Butch the Anatolian shepherd (Nick Nolte) — recruit the overeager German shepherd Diggs (James Marsden), who's been cast off the San Francisco police force for his inability to follow orders, to stop her. But they soon realize they have to team up with the underground cat group MEOWS, led by Catherine (Christina Applegate) and her boss, the tuxedoed Tab Lazenby (Roger Moore, a nice touch). Both teams get help, sort of, from the scatterbrained, fast-talking pigeon Seamus (Katt Williams).
Among the people who populate "Cats & Dogs," Chris O'Donnell plays Diggs' former police partner and Jack McBrayer gets some reliable laughs doing a version of his guileless doofus character — this time, a magician who's Kitty Galore's unsuspecting human companion, who insists on dressing her in humiliating costumes as part of his act.
But for grown-ups, kids, dogs, cats — whoever's watching, there's enough here to keep them entertained.
"Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG for animal action and humor. Running time: 87 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.
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