Canadian director Brad Peyton knows the rules. “For directors, there’s a list of things you’re not supposed to do: kids and animals,” he says. “The list goes on: robots, explosions, lots of visual effects.”
Peyton’s first feature film, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, the cast was almost entirely of the furry, four-legged variety and the spy-games plot called for plenty of robots, explosions and effects. And he’s completely aware of how bold of a choice that was.
“It just felt like we pretty much put everything into the first movie,” he admits.
Peyton quickly learned that when dealing with canine actors, he’d have to do a lot of the heavy lifting himself. “A dog walks into a room, doesn’t know what an eye line is, doesn’t have a clue what it’s motivation is besides getting his food and hearing a squeaky toy,” he says.
Luckily, he also had a star-studded voice cast — and at least one live, upright actor on set — to help him feel human again. “When we got to Chris O’Donnell, I was like, ‘Thank god. Four days of Chris O’Donnell, this is like such a reprieve,’” Peyton says with a laugh. “It was refreshing.”
The voice cast includes James Marsden and Bette Midler as the rookie hero pup and villainous Kitty Galore, respectively.
“The fact that he was working with live animals, live actors — they’re actually quite similar — and then the robots and the cartoons, and it all melds together and you say, ‘Well I can’t tell which part is drawn and which part is a robot and which part is a real animal.’ I couldn’t get over it,” she says.
For Marsden, the most daunting part of the process was just being in the recording booth.
“When you’re in front of the camera, you have a toolbox. You have your expressions in your face, you have your body language, and this experience for me was challenging in a sense that you really do rely on your voice to convey emotion,” he says.