Bette Midler bares her claws in cat fight
By Bob Thompson, Postmedia News July 26, 2010 12:31 PM
LOS ANGELES – Over the last decade, family-friendly themes in kids’ movies haven’t changed that much, but the ways and means of presenting them have.
Case in point is Cats & Dogs, a 2001 charmer that managed a decent box office and some fond memories from fans.
Not surprisingly, the sequel contains more refined special effects, a flashier plot and a vivid 3-D format to sell its “paws and claws” spy-thriller premise.
Opening July 30, is the result, a Brad Peyton-directed movie adventure blending live action, animation and animatronics, while featuring just as many explosions as laughs.
Despite the slicker approach, the conceit remains the same: As humans go about their lives, oblivious to the world in which animals speak, there lurks a global menace.
She is none other than Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler), a power-crazed feline and former MEOWS secret agent who has masterminded a diabolical plot to turn dogs against their owners, thanks to a sound wave mechanism transforming canines into beasts.
With the clock ticking, elite members of the MEOWS and DOG agencies join forces to stop Kitty, and a delicate dog-cat balance is tipped into anarchy.
Leading the way in tracking down Kitty Galore are: MEOWS top-rated feline Catherine (Christina Applegate), newly recruited DOG dude and former police dog Diggs (James Marsden), top DOG Butch (Nick Nolte) and their stool pigeon guide Seamus (Katt Williams).
Also showing up is the leader of the DOG pack Lou (Neil Patrick Harris), Sam (Michael Clarke Duncan), Mr. Tinkles (Sean Hayes), Crazy Carlito (Paul Rodriguez) and Peek (Joe Pantoliano).
On the human side of things, there’s Diggs’ cop handler Shane (Chris O’Donnell) and the naive fairground magician (Jack McBrayer), whom Kitty is using as a cloaking device for her evil plans.
“She’s very cranky,” says Midler of her Kitty character, during a recent interview with Marsden and director Peyton. “She’s been rejected by her family, so she wants to rule the world.”
So how did the Oscar-honoured actress and Grammy-winning singer come up with Kitty Galore’s voice?
“Do you mean did I channel anyone or did I play evil like the evil me?” she says smiling. “Now you know the real me.”
More seriously, Midler confides she was surprised by the isolation of doing voice work. “It’s a little bit lonely,” she admits, “like recording.”
At first, Marsden, too, had to adjust to the studio work.
“When you are in a film, you have your tool box (that includes) the expressions in your face and body language,” he notes. “But it was challenging, and new to me, to rely just on your voice.”
“But the real thrill,” Midler says, “is seeing the finished product.”
Both Midler and Marsden say they were amazed the director was able to amalgamate the assorted sequences, styles and formats into one movie so seamlessly.
Indeed, it was quite a challenge for first-time feature-length film director Peyton, who made his mark with the acclaimed 2002 short Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl and the 2005 claymation TV series on CBC, What It’s Like Being Alone.
In 2008, the native of Gander, N.L., was assigned the Cats & Dogs sequel, and in the process, was warned about the head-spinning logistics of combining live action with animation in a 3-D format.
“Kids and animals, robots and explosions, and lots of visual effects,” says Peyton, listing the things to avoid in a film that was his movie debut.
“I put everything into my first movie. I also tried to bring in a bit of flair to the process, and I wanted it to have a sort of adult comedy tone to it and some cool action, so the movie could play on different levels: something for the kids, and have something there for adults, too.”
Dealing with actors, especially Midler, was another new experience for the director.
“When Bette Midler first showed up, I was intimidated and in awe,” Peyton confesses. “But I learned quickly to shift gears and direct, and I ended up finding common ground by making common-sense choices in the vocal performance.”
More difficult to wrangle were the real-life cats, dogs, and assorted other animals – more than 100 in total on the Vancouver sets.
“I felt lucky that we had such a good training team,” he says. “I was very dubious that they could train cats, but the trainers really could have them do stuff on command.”
Next up for Peyton is another challenge:He’s directing the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth, which might start shooting in October, although casting hasn’t begun yet.
“I am really excited about the opportunity,” suggests Peyton who is in pre-production for the movie. “But nothing’s definite until you’re on the set filming; there are a lot decisions to be made beyond me.”