You may never look at your pet the same way again. In the sun-dappled universe of Cats & Dogs, the live-action comedy opening July 4, a power struggle has been raging in our own backyards since ancient times. Using high-tech spy equipment, man's best friend has kept the peace. And victory is at hand! A nutty professor has almost completed a formula that will eradicate human allergies to dogs, putting canines ahead in the people-pleasing sweepstakes. When an evil white Persian cat launches his plan to take over the world, it's Lou the beagle to the rescue.
O.K., so it's not Shakespeare. It's not even Shakespeare in Love. But whatever. Cats & Dogs is one of the most amazing feats in a summer that will be remembered for its computer-generated imagery in everything from live-action drama to animated comedy. Never before have so many movies owed so much to computer geeks. Take, for example, Shrek, its magical kingdom rendered entirely on computers with a richness, luminosity and texture that wouldn't have been possible two years ago, when Disney and Pixar sounded a death knell for antiquated hand-drawn cartoons with Toy Story 2. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, opening in July, stars a cast of disconcertingly realistic CGI humans. In Steven Spielberg's A.I., opening this week, a teddy bear comes to life, and Haley Joel Osment communes with eerie, translucent aliens. As a robot, Osment never blinks because of his Stanislavskian discipline--and because the special-effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) removed more than a dozen blinks from his scenes.
"This summer, we've seen a tremendous expansion of imagination," says producer Chris Lee, who began developing software to turn the video game Final Fantasy into a movie four years ago. "We have a couple of generations now that have grown up with gaming. Kids are used to living in a 360[degree] digital universe, and they don't necessarily accept a flat background."
In an effort to keep topping itself, Hollywood is taking time-tested crowd pleasers--namely, talking animals--further and further into the digital realm. Dr. Dolittle 2, in which Eddie Murphy talks to computerized critters, will still be in theaters when Cats & Dogs, a whiz-bang homage to Chuck Jones and James Bond, enters the fray. "We have to deliver images that audiences have never seen before," says Cats & Dogs' director Lawrence Guterman. "It has to be funny--otherwise there's no movie--but at the same time you have to deliver something new." That effort has gone on for two years, since Guterman and visual-effects supervisor Ed Jones went to work with animal trainers, puppeteers and three special-effects houses, including Rhythm & Hues, which made a pig talk in the Babe movies through a process called face replacement. That means putting a digital face on footage of a real animal and moving its mouth with a computer.