July 16, 2001 12:00 PM

Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins

The whimpered warnings of impending danger that used to emerge from the likes of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and other celluloid canines pale alongside the high-tech heroics of Lou, the chatty puppy who takes on Mr. Tinkles, a megalomaniacal cat intent on achieving world domination for his species in Cats & Dogs.

This convivial (if overly busy) family film contends that: 1) animals can talk and 2) there is a war going on between cats and dogs, complete with sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment and complicated weaponry. Lou, a beagle puppy (voiced by Tobey Maguire, who sounds as if he’s doing a Michael J. Fox impression), joins the fight after he is adopted by the Brody family. Lou is a replacement for the clan’s longtime pooch who, unbeknownst to the Brodys, was dognapped by cats (driving a van bearing CATZRUL vanity plates) at the behest of the nefarious Tinkles. Lou and his doggie pals must do their best to keep Tinkles from getting his paws on a formula that Mr. Brody (Goldblum), a scientist, is devising to cure humans afflicted by allergies to dogs.

Cats & Dogs will amuse kids for longer than it does adults and dog lovers more than cat fanciers. The movie is heavy on litter-box humor, and the chase and battle scenes eventually become repetitive. The animals are portrayed using a mix of real four-legged stars, animatronic puppets and computer-generated imagery. While the dogs come off more realistically than the cats, Tinkles (silkily voiced by Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes), with his long white hair and pouting face, is by far the movie’s niftiest creation. Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon effectively lend their vocal talents to a couple of canine characters, but the human stars have little to do besides coo over their cute, befurred costars. (PG)

Bottom Line: Collars modest laughs, but mostly for pups

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