Cats & Dogs

Continuing in the vein of this year’s clever “Spy Kids,” “Cats & Dogs” is an inventive and fanciful children’s movie that will more than adequately entertain the kids while amusing adults, too.

It’s a live-action movie that plays like a cartoon, with dogs and cats speaking, using weapons and carrying on a secret war behind the humans’ backs. Real animals, puppets and computer technology blend almost seamlessly to make this happen.

The war is age-old, of course, but lately it’s reached a critical point. Scientist Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum) is on the verge of creating a vaccine that will cure people who are allergic to dogs. The cats know this will put a damper on their own share of the market and, led by the evil Mr. Tinkles (voice of Sean Hayes), seek to prevent it.

The dogs intend to send a special agent to the Brody home to keep watch, but an inexperienced puppy named Lou (Tobey Maguire) is accidentally sent instead. Commanding officer Butch (Alec Baldwin), accompanied by electronics expert Peek (Joe Pantoliano) and stealth operator Sam (Michael Clarke Duncan), must make the most of the situation, and Lou gets some on-the-job training against the various feline forces sent to destroy Professor Brody’s work.

Lou is conflicted, though. Butch tells him not to get attached to his family (which includes Elizabeth Perkins as Mrs. Brody and Alexander Pollock as their soccer-playing little boy), but Lou’s instinct is to be man’s best friend. Can he be loyal to his masters while secretly saving their lives?

All of the voice work is good, from Alec Baldwin’s gruff leader (which sounds like the exact same character he played in “Pearl Harbor”) to Susan Sarandon as a kindly lady dog who has a history with Butch. But it’s Sean Hayes who takes the cake as Mr. Tinkles, madly vamping and plotting and scheming even while having to suffer the indignities inherent in being the lap-cat of a wealthy old man. Hayes takes delight in playing the cat as over-the-top as possible, and it pays off. (Remember how James Bond villain Blofeld had a pet cat? Mr. Tinkles is that cat.)

Things get weak in the middle of the film, but the giddy good humor comes back again in time for the climax. And none of the humans register much: Jeff Goldblum, for as nerdy as he is, doesn’t do the bumbling-scientist-father thing very well. (Where’s Rick Moranis when you need him?)

But the humor is wickedly funny and mostly clean (a few poop jokes, but these are dogs, remember?), and overall a fine way to spend a summer afternoon with the kids.

B+ (; PG, some mild crudeness, mild action violence.)