Kitty Galore (aka Bette Midler) vs. the world

by Fred Topel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday July 28, 2010

Who better than Bette Midler to provide the voice of the villainous diva in Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore?

In the new 3D critter feature (in theaters on Friday) Kitty Galore was a prized long haired cat who lost all her fur in a Batman-style accident. Her owners no longer recognized her and turned her away, so she vows to destroy the human race. Only a team of professional canine and feline spies can stop her.

Bette’s bad hair days

In real life Midler can’t claim to have had such a disastrous accident, but even bad hair days make her sweat. "Something happens to my hair in real life every day and I don’t (sweat it)," she said. Rather she’s learned to roll with it, and, in typical Midler style, provided an anecdote as an explanation.

"A long time ago when I first worked in the theater, I was in Fiddler on the Roof. I came into the musical and I was just a kid. I think I was 19 or 20 or something like that. One of the girls who was in Fiddler was a brazen Puerto Rican girl and she was famous. The reason she was famous was because the opening night she had done something to her hair. She had tried to straighten her hair or something and her hair fell out, literally. And she didn’t even blink. She went out, she got a piece, she slapped it on, she went out, she gave the performance of her life. I mean, she went on and became a really famous opera singer and I never forgot that. I thought wow, check that out. She didn’t even bother. She didn’t waste any time. From that time on, I never thought twice. I just look around, grab a piece, put it on."

Just plain evil?

That Broadway star was a positive influence to Midler. When it came time to play evil, Midler didn’t need to mimic anyone else. She joked, "Did I channel anyone or am I just plain evil? I’m just plain evil, it’s true. Now you know the real me."

The world domination part of Kitty Galore’s plans might not be that far from reality. Indeed Midler conquered theater, film and music. "I think a lot of female entertainers kind of think about that when they start out," she said. "Yeah, I do."

Singing actually helps Midler in her voiceover work. Kitty Galore never breaks out into musical numbers, but matching the animated mouth on a real cat is a bit of a song and dance itself.

"There are some parts of it that are quite musical. The timing is very important in this kind of work because the phrasing works with the mouth of the character. Once the mouth of the character is moving, you have to phrase along with the character that’s drawn. That is musical and if you listen to that, you can hear where the beats are skipped and where you drop a beat or when you rush and catch up a little bit. I will say that the fact that I’ve sung for a long time has really helped a lot with that. I don’t think it helped the character but it helped me get through the sessions."

You’d think Midler would be use to having a studio all to herself to work. That might be ideal for recording vocal tracks, but for dialogue it’s kind of weird. "It’s not just isolating. It’s a little bit lonely because it’s just you in a dark room with a sketch of a character or sometimes a filled in scene, but still you don’t work with the other actors. It’s like one long looping session. I said it’s like, ’Oh my God, ADR for days.’"

After a while, Midler not only got used to it, but began to see where her awkward work fit into the movie. As animation and visual effects began, she saw Kitty Galore speak with her voice as she concocted her evil plan.

"I came in for a number of sessions and it was really curious because when I first started it was just a sketch. As the time went on, the backgrounds of the other characters got more and more filled in. That was very, very exciting to watch. I’ve never experienced that before. The real thrill I think comes from seeing the finished product. My feeling is that Brad [Peyton, the director], the fact that he could keep all these balls in the air and make all these [elements] come together into one movie, it was absolutely staggering to me. I couldn’t imagine. I couldn’t imagine how to do it because Brad was working working with animals. There’s nothing harder than working with animals. Those animals really looked like they knew what they were doing but honestly, they’re animals. Stay, stay, stay. I worked with animals before and it’s like, oh God."

The Cats and Dogs films utilize real animals, animatronic puppets, and total animation for the really cool stunts. "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. I think it’s really an extraordinary achievement."

Relaxing summer

This is the second time Midler is playing a dog: in 1988 she was a poodle in Disney’s 1988 animated movie "Oliver & Company," a diva-ish role not unlike the one she’s playing in her current film.

Today kids expect the highest technology in their entertainment. When she was growing up, Midler played with homemade toys. "Actually, my mother made toys. My mother made our toys. She made a rabbit for me. I still have it. He had a part of little corduroy overalls. She was really a seamstress, my mom. She was fantastic. But in those days, they used to have patterns and all the women would buy patterns. The pattern would come with the fabrics and you would put it together. The stuffing too. That was a great little enterprise."

One of Kitty’s canine adversaries was a former costar of Midler’s. She worked with Nick Nolte in Down and Out in Beverly Hills. She was hoping for a reunion but had to settle for his canine counterpart.

"I was looking forward to seeing Nick. I really was. I haven’t seen him in a long time. He’s so sensational in this movie. He’s so wonderful, isn’t he? Oh my God, well, he is that dog. He was so brilliant. He was wonderful. We all feel the same way. We have yet to meet him. If he was a dog, he would be that dog. He was wonderful."

In real life, Midler does not have any pets. She is actively involved with nature though. "A couple years ago I teamed up with the New York City department of parks and recreation to plant a million trees in New York City. We’ve planted about 375,000 so far in the last two years. I also am the founder and chairman of an organization called New York Restoration Project and we clean abandoned parks and public places and we also own 55 community gardens where people in the community grow their own food. We teach kids as well about nature, environmental science and all that sort of thing so we’ve been at it for about 15 years. This is our 15th anniversary this year and it’s been fantastic. It’s been one of the great projects of my life."

She is also taking the summer off after a grueling two years of performing in Vegas. "I’m just, y’know, catching my breath," she recently told USA Today. "Trying to lose some weight, y’know, coloring my hair, doing my nails, doing some maintenance, some much-needed maintenance, on my body and my soul."

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore opens Friday.

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