WB tooning 'Cats and Dogs'

Faster than you can say “‘Stuart Little’ made $15 million in its opening weekend,” Warner Bros. is a mouse whisker away from greenlighting its own live-action/animated feature, “Cats and Dogs.”

Since the release of the Columbia mouse movie, the question in WB’s Building 3 has been how quickly “Cats” can be delivered and released, prompting a flurry of marketing and production meetings.

Warners already has director Larry Guterman off scouting locations, and tests show that the creatures look sufficiently lifelike, so the studio may proceed with the pic.

Though budget figures were not available, the studio is trying to create a potentially important franchise at a modest price.

Warren Zide and Craig Perry from Zide/Perry Prods. will produce; Chris Bender will exec produce.

Warners has lately been trying to get “Cats” in time for a Christmas 2000 release, even debating the idea of using two first units to reach that goal. Though no final decision has been made, it now seems that the studio may instead take its time and try for a finished picture for the 2001 holiday season.

Story, which was originally set up as a pitch, chronicles the ongoing turf war between cats and dogs occurring between humans’ feet without their being aware of it. The bone of contention in the pic is understood to be the creation of a vaccine against dog allergies, which the cats want to destroy and the dogs want to protect.

Guterman, who is repped by WMA and 3Arts, worked as an early director on DreamWorks’ “Antz” and also developed a live-action/animated version of “Curious George” at ILM for a year.

“Cats and Dogs” is shaping up to be a solid franchise attempt for the studio, which has previously dipped its toe into the animation world and not always felt comfortable.

As one example, the longtime attempted remake of the Don Knotts starrer “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” was canceled at the 11th hour, after the studio spent serious cash on pre-production, but still lost its director, Steve Oedekerk, to creative differences, prompting the exit of Jim Carrey.

Though “Iron Giant” was reviewed through the roof last year, it failed to click with audiences. Previous effort “Space Jam” in 1996 was more expensive by comparison, but was also WB’s first big investment in the animated field, which involves a decadelong learning curve.

Warners is bullish about its upcoming live-action/animated feature “Osmosis Jones,” which is on the front burner for 2001. The animated part is co-directed by Tom Sito and Piet Kroon, while Peter and David Farrelly will direct the live-action segments.

Warners is busy building creature models in L.A. and in the U.K. for “Cats” and is understood to be using the cel/animatronic capabilities of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, so all sails are set for making this movie happen.

All it needs now is the final John Hancock by WB prexy/chief operating officer Alan Horn and production prexy Lorenzo di Bonaventura, which it is expected to receive sometime within the next week, provided all the numbers line up.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more