Mr. Tinkles, a despot cat, is scheming to interfere in Prof. Brody's work on a cure for dog allergies. After the cat-napping of the Brodys' dog, a worldwide canine organisation arranges for a secret agent pup to be infiltrated into the family, but Mrs. Brody picks Lou, an untrained beagle, instead. Retaliating, Mr. Tinkles sends cat ninjas to attack Brody and conquer the world.
Cats & Dogs has an irresistibly funny idea, cross-breeding the talking animals of Babe with the retro-Bond skittery of Spy Kids, and at its best, it delivers charm and laughs, with miraculous use of trained pets, animatronics, CGI and fake faces on real animals to make an entire cast of felines and canines come to life.
There is solid voicework from Tobey Maguire as Lou, the ordinary pup who yearns for adventure but learns that all he needs is the love of a human master, with Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon gruff and sly as Buddy and Ivy, the veteran agent dogs. But the runaway success of the film is the fluffy megalomaniac Mr. Tinkles, voiced by Sean Hayes and benefitting from amazingly detailed and expressive fur and whisker-work.
The human characters are less fully-realised, with gawky eccentric Goldblum and briskly mommish Perkins well aware that their scenes without the animals are potential fast-forward fodder, and Pollock is a cookie-cutter cute-but-neglected kid (traumatised because Dad doesn't show up for his soccer try-outs) whose dialogue consists of exclamations like "cool!" and "sucks!"
The script has the feel of something that's been overcrafted, with all the characters stuck with positive and empowering arcs, and homilies to family values delivered as the score burbles in that way that is supposed to warm the heart but tends to turn the stomach. Setting itself up as a dog film, it's the sort of movie that prefers dumb doggedness over catty wit, though the cat characters tend to get all the big laughs, and there's even a wonderful, Nuremberg rally-style finish with a horde of quisling mice and terrific stuntwork.
It doesn't have the attitude that makes, say, Toy Story or Mouse Hunt play to adults as well as kids, and there are scenes which could have come from a Beethoven sequel. But with the spy stuff is fun.