The live action/CGI comedy shed scenes for the sake of box office rewards -- and good taste

By Lori Reese
Updated July 10, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Cats & Dogs
  • Movie

Getting the persnickety lead feline to hit its mark wasn’t the only tough part about making ”Cats & Dogs.” The CGI/ live action comedy (in theaters July 4) features real animals who not only talk (à la ”Babe”) but do kung fu, operate complex surveillance equipment, and hold United Nations style peace conferences. The two year project used 800 animated effects, 200 effects artists, and a roster of A-list talent, including ”Will and Grace”’s Sean Hayes as the voice of Mr. Tinkles, a power mad Persian cat, and Tobey Maguire and Alec Baldwin as the dogs who try to keep the peace.

What’s more, director Larry Guterman says the film required a painstaking series of edits and rewrites designed to keep the humor edgy enough to please both kids and adults without offending parental sensibilities — or the fiscally conscious execs at Warner Bros studios. After all, there’s more at stake than mere kibble. This year’s top grossing film, ”Shrek” ($220 million and counting), shows that a kid friendly movie with the right dose of hip humor can mean box office gold. ”An animated feature is sort of in a cocoon,” says analyst Dan Marks, vice president of ACNielsen. ”But once it comes out as a butterfly, everybody goes ‘Wow!’ ‘Shrek’ is like that. ‘Cats & Dogs’ could be too.”

Here talks to director Guterman and producer Chris deFaria about how they made the fur fly.

How do you create a kid movie that appeals to adults too?
DEFARIA ”You walk a fine balance all the way through the movie. You ask, ‘How many gags do I put in for me and how many do I put in for my son?’ Kids will be turned off by anything that smacks of sanitization. It still has to seem slightly forbidden.”

You nixed a segment in which the Russian assassin cat pins the hero, a Beagle named Lou (Maguire), against a wall with knives. Was this because moms and dads in the test audiences were offended?
GUTERMAN ”That was actually the studio saying let’s tone it down. You’ve gotta ask, ‘How real is it for kids, how real is it for adults?’ We had to make sure that it was immediately shown that there were no permanent negative consequences, because that might upset a kid for the rest of the movie.”

Did the fact that you were using live animals influence your decisions about what to cut?
GUTERMAN ”We were very conscious and aware of that. In pure animation you can have the animated knight get smashed and fall off the edge of a cliff. But in our movie you would think, ‘Oh, the dog’s getting hurt.”’

Was the studio strict about maintaining a PG rating?
DEFARIA ”Potty humor had to go, even though kids love it.”
GUTERMAN ”We had about four or five double entendres that the studio wanted out of the movie, so our PG wouldn’t have a caveat about language.”

In one scene, three Ninja cats sneak into Lou’s house and launch a kung-fu offensive. How do you coordinate such complex stunts?
GUTERMAN ”The most painstaking thing is getting the animals to look like they’re really focused. I mean, we’re making a spy thriller and all they’re doing is reacting to food, which trainers use as a reward system. Half the time the dog’s got his tongue hanging out and he’s wagging his tail. That doesn’t look like a character that’s focused on his mission!”

What scene do you wish you HADN’T cut from the script?
GUTERMAN ”One set piece in the middle of the movie: a third attempt by the cats to break into Lou’s home. You see a gas company truck pull up. The gas company man, walking awkwardly, knocks on the front door and says, stiffly, ‘Hello. We are here to check the possibility of a gas leak may we come in thank you.’ Then you see a little cat shoot a blow dart at the human father. He passes out, then the suit opens up and cats in an armature spill out. It would have cost millions of dollars and we couldn’t afford it. We had to kill our babies, as they say.”

After all the cuts and clean-ups, do you think the movie still has a chance with mature audiences?
GUTERMAN ”People have pets. Hopefully they’re going to see the movie for this wish fulfillment idea that there’s this fantasy world under our noses when we turn away. You know, I have a golden retriever. He has SOME personality, and I talk like he understands what I say. Sometimes he can understand, like, ‘Get your toy,’ but I guess that’s just based on a collection of syllables. When you see the movie, you can’t help but wish that you could have more of a conversation with your animals.” Or maybe that’s just what happens when a director spends too much time with cats and dogs.

Cats & Dogs

  • Movie
  • PG
  • 86 minutes
  • Larry Guterman