Animals who think they're people. As hard as you try, you just can't deny their appeal. From those oddly popular pictures of dogs playing cards to '50s TV shows about talking horses to an Oscar-winning movie about a pig that wants to be a sheepdog, audiences have always lapped up the sight of our anifriends playing clever, and still revel in their demi-human adventures.
Coming on like Babe crossed with James Bond, and playing much like a live-action Tom And Jerry (although with a little less hardcore violence), Cats And Dogs certainly taps into this strange attraction. But anyone who saw the incredibly entertaining, joke-packed trailer for this big-budget family flick - anyone over 10 years old, that is will feel a little disappointed by the end result.
The problem is, all the best adult-tickling jokes are right there in the trailer: the menacingly deep-voiced little kitty, the dog bounding snout-first into a glass door, Lou's (Tobey Maguire) "Toto Annihilation" quip... The rest are distinctly hit and miss. Writers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra attempt to get as much comic mileage out of bad cat Mr Tinkles (Sean Hayes) as they can, but there's only so many times you can base a joke on the fact that a creature who wants to take over the world is actually a cute white puddy tat which is regularly dressed up and humiliated by its owner. And the references to dogs drinking out of toilet bowls and being blamed for farting are just a little too obvious.
It's also a shame that the effects aren't better executed, with the switch from real animal to CG creation to puppet painfully obvious. Even the facial animation and CG lip-syncing are overdone, as if cats and dogs aren't already expressive enough - you can't help but cringe everytime Lou's big brown eyes are clumsily widened to help the poor mutt express surprise.
But if you do notice all this, and it does bother you, pointing it all out will only make you feel like the spoilsport grown-up who reveals that Santa Claus is really just their drunk Uncle Harry in a costume. Younger children are unlikely to see the flaws in the effects, or find some of the gags tiresome, or feel slightly queasy after the scene where the freckle-nosed kid bonds with his unfeasibly cute puppy. Chances are, they'll dig the cat ninjas, the doggie rocket cars and all the slapstick action.
So while Cats And Dogs' main flaw is that it largely fails in attempting to impress the adult segment of its audience, its pre-teen target market will happily chomp down on it like a mastiff on a prone Bonio. And, whatever nits you pick, you can't take away the fact that this is about animals who think they're people...
The odd ropey effect and a so-so script prevent this from being the please-all comedy it should be, but as a kid's movie, at least, it jumps through the right hoops. And if you're partial to cute animals playing human, then it should still get your tail wagging.