July 5, 2001
Yeshiva Bocher Goes Animalistic
If you make a movie with animals in the post-"Babe" era, the critters had better do more than talk. "They have to, like, do kung fu," says Larry Guterman, director of "Cats & Dogs," about a secret war between man's best friends.
In the effects-laden live-action flick, canines detonate bombs and operate doggy espionage equipment. Felines throw knives and perform ninja moves. "It's like James Bond meets Loony Tunes," says Guterman, who waged his faux war with a nearly seamless mix of live animals, puppetry and computer graphics.
The 30-something director, who coyly states his age as "between 4 and 5 in dog years," says he didn't have any pets while growing up in an observant Jewish home in Montreal and Toronto. But he did direct spy thrillers with his Super-8 camera and yeshiva bocher classmates. His dad, Monty Mazin, was a professional fundraiser for Jewish groups like Israel Bonds.
Guterman later studied physics at Harvard, impressed Jeffrey Katzenberg with his USC film grad school thesis, directed segments of "Antz" and was signed to direct the ill-fated "Curious George" for Universal. In summer 1999, he created a "Cats & Dogs" test reel that helped convince Warner Bros. to greenlight the movie.
During principal production in Vancouver last year, kosher food was trucked in for Guterman's lunch every day.
The trickiest sequence: A pooch Pentagon scene that involved more than 21 dogs and "got pretty hairy," he says.
Guterman concedes that cats are the bad guys of the movie, but hey, felines are aloof and haughty -- perfect qualities for film villains, he insists.
For example, the movie's dastardly white Persian, Mr. Tinkles, would never deign to wear a blue satin kippah, like Guterman's Golden Retriever does on the occasional Shabbat.
Next up for Guterman: a couple of pet projects, both Jewish-themed. "One's a coming-of-age-movie, the other's a historical drama," says the director, who shul-hops around Los Angeles.
Neither will be a Shaggy Dog story.