What a job for a first time director. With Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Brad Peyton had to handle the voice talent, including Bette Midler, Christina Applegate, James Marsden and Nick Nolte; he also had to direct a bunch of assorted animals, and oversee all the post-production CGI and special effects work.
In the movie, Kitty Galore (Midler), a former spy, has gone rogue from the organization MEOWS, and is about to unleash a diabolical device to enable her to rule the world. With such a disaster on the horizon, Diggs the dog (Marsden) and Catherine the cat (Applegate) must work together to stop the evil Kitty.
Filmreviewonline spoke with Brad Peyton about his first experience helming a movie.
This was your first movie to direct. How hard was it to handle the actors, the cats, the dogs?
There’s a list of things you’re not supposed to do as a director, kids and animals, robots, explosions, lots of visual effects, (and we did it all). It just felt like we pretty much put everything into the first movie. But I had a very supportive group and I had a lot of people that I was collaborating with.
The great thing about this process, even though it’s really difficult, is you’re (working) with animators, at the same time you’re working with the writers, at the same time you’re working with the cast. But you can also take advantage of that, you can try different lines, you have the writers tweak jokes, you can let the cast play with it. So for me it was taking the advantages of the process and trying to use them as much as I could.
Why do you think audiences enjoy watching talking animals?
Once people bond with their pets and get to know their personalities, it’s easy to imagine them doing things when we’re not around. This movie is just an extension of that idea – that animals have their own secret lives. Of course, we take it a lot further; we have them using jet packs and rocket cars.
It all comes from that basic curiosity that I think most of us have had at one time or another, wondering what our cats and dogs really do all day. It’s why candid clips of animals caught in the act of being themselves are so popular on the Internet.
Are you a James Bond fan? Is that why it figures into this film so much?
When we started we said, ‘Let’s just take all the stuff about spy movies, we had The Bourne Identity hand-held camera on the fight, there was a little bit of Mission Impossible. I think Bond just kept coming in because we all grew up on Bond, and (those movies) had this tongue-in-cheek comedy, and I felt that comedy really fed into (this).
(And as with the dogs and cats) Bond and MI-6 are forced to collaborate with the Russians, to get the villain who’s threatening them both. They still don’t like each other, but somehow they make it work.
We’ve got everything you’d want in an action adventure: jet-pack chases, explosions, fights, flights, spies, more explosions, and underground tunnels. It just happens to be with talking animals.
And then, of course, we were lucky enough to get Roger Moore to do a cameo. It was a real surreal moment, because I was directing him, and he was like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And I said, ‘Could you scream like a cat that’s just been thrown across the room.’ “Yes, of course,’ (he mimics a cat scream) It was really odd asking Sir Roger Moore to scream like a cat. I kind of cringed actually.
I gave the direction, and I thought, ‘Is he going to throw something at me? I have no idea how he’s going to take this?’ But he was really game. He didn’t bat an eyelash. He just did ridiculous cat sounds.
The rest of the cast is wonderful too.
We were so fortunate to work with this fantastic group of actors. With this kind of a movie, actors rarely get a chance to interact in person, but even so, their work came together in a way that created its own chemistry and in that sense they truly were an ensemble.
I tried to cast voices that were very distinct. I wanted you to be able to close your eyes and you know who’s on screen.
How complicated was the technology that makes the real animals appear to talk?
Every shot has its complexity, with multiple layers requiring follow-up, so it was a fairly labor-intensive effort. But that also meant I had more toys to play with.
Animation teaches you to think through all the aspects of the scene in a way you don’t need to think about when directing people. People are aware of their eye-lines and motivations, they process the scene on their own; whereas, with animated characters and, I’ve learned, with animals, you have to do all of that for them.
Was ‘directing’ the animals difficult?
I was amazed at how well the cats take direction. If I put my cat on a leash, he’d just stare at me. (Our animal trainer) Boone Narr’s cats walk on a leash, stay, and hit their marks. I was a little (nervous) at first about what to expect. He said, ‘We can get just as much from a cat as we can from a dog,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah, sure.’ But it’s absolutely true.
A big surprise for me was seeing how one of the dogs playing Diggs looked disappointed at break time. He seemed sincerely bummed out that he wasn’t being called to set.