Archive for Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Cats are evil, dogs are good

Movie portrayals set stereotypes of pets long ago

July 4, 2001

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— Don't let Mr. Tinkles fool you.

Sure, he's soft, white and fluffy. He even purrs and meows.

The power-mad Mr. Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes) rallies his troops
to seize control of the world from the canine population in Warner
Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' comedy of the
summer, "Cats & Dogs." The movie, which opens today, continues
a long line of film portrayals where cats are the "bad guys."

The power-mad Mr. Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes) rallies his troops to seize control of the world from the canine population in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' comedy of the summer, "Cats & Dogs." The movie, which opens today, continues a long line of film portrayals where cats are the "bad guys."

But Mr. Tinkles, the villain in the new movie "Cats & Dogs," is pure evil, perhaps one of the most diabolical characters ever to dominate the silver screen. Wanna know why? Because he's a cat.

Hollywood has its claws out for the kitties, consistently portraying them as scheming, devious and manipulative and the cats that can talk are even worse.

Think of Snowbell in "Stuart Little," Catwoman in "Batman Returns," the cartoon cats Sylvester and Tom. Think of the frisky feline in the 1972 animated feature "Fritz the Cat," who smoked pot and sparked riots.

Dogs, meanwhile, are sweet and cuddly, loyal and trusty and true. They always save the day. They never do anything bad.

Think of "Lassie" and "Benji," "Lady and the Tramp" and "Old Yeller," all 101 Dalmatians (and the extra pup that was added for the sequel). Think of "My Dog Skip" and try not to get choked up in the process.

"Cats & Dogs," which opens nationwide today, is a prime example of the good-dog, bad-cat phenomenon. Mr. Tinkles (voiced by Sean Hayes of "Will & Grace"), a power-hungry Persian, leads his feline minions in a fight for world domination against a group of secret agent dogs, led by a beagle puppy named Lou (voiced by Tobey Maguire), who only want to protect the humans.

The film's director, Larry Guterman, said portrayals of dogs and cats in film merely reflect the stereotypes we project onto them.

"(Mr. Tinkles) doesn't represent all cats. He's a rogue feline," Guterman said. "There's a back story he was kicked out of the cat council so he's sort of embittered."

One of the most memorable examples of a cat being depicted as a villain is 1963's "From Russia With Love," in which a white cat sits in the lap of the evil Blofeld, said Boo Allen, a Dallas film historian and an admitted dog person.

Mike Myers spoofed that relationship in both "Austin Powers" movies in the late '90s, with Dr. Evil incessantly petting a hairless feline, Mr. Bigglesworth, as he concocted devious schemes.

"That would ruin his image if a Westie were sitting in his lap," Allen said.

Cats are always the bad guys because they're not cuddly, Allen said.

"Dogs are your friends. You can pick them up and play with them and love them and all that. Cats are aloof, and it's easy to make something aloof seem evil," he said. "Cruella De Vil she was probably a cat person."

In 1995's "Babe," the dogs on the farm treat the talking pig like a family member the mother of the pack even lets him call her "Mom" while the family cat lies to Babe and manipulates him.

Even in movies in which animals aren't the focus, cats are mischievous. In last year's "Meet the Parents," Jinks causes major trouble for Ben Stiller when he visits his potential in-laws, and Robert De Niro treats the cat with more humanity that he gives his daughter's boyfriend.

There are rare exceptions: The rabid, terrorizing St. Bernard of 1983's "Cujo," and Mr. Beefy, the talking bulldog in last year's "Little Nicky" who cursed, tossed back shots at strip clubs and accosted poodles on the sidewalk.

Joan Miller, who has bred champion Abyssinians and sits on the Cat Fanciers' Assn.'s board of directors, said art has portrayed cats as villains for centuries. She cited 15th century Italian paintings that show a cat sitting at Judas' feet at Jesus' Last Supper.

"It's hard to understand cats. They just remain elusive, so people tend to maybe attribute characteristics to these animals that they don't completely understand and that they can't control," Miller said.

l A review of "Cats & Dogs" may be found on page 4D.

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