Title: The Secret Life Of Pets
Release Date: July 8, 2016
Company: Illumination Entertainment
Release Format: Theatrical
The folks at Illumination Entertainment have made a name for themselves with hits like Despicable Me and The Lorax. Unfortunately, The Secret Life Of Pets represents more or less what they gave us with Hop and Minions; forgettable entertainment. It’s a film with some funny moments and good voice acting. However, it also contains a story so forgettable and derivative of other works that there’s really nothing that interesting about it. At times, it can be funny but when each plot beat hits, the story unfortunately can’t escape auto-pilot.
The Secret Life Of Pets gives us our hero, Max (voice by Louis C.K.). He’s a small dog, living with his owner, Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper), in the big city. He narrates how perfect his life is until the obvious plot point kicks in; his owner brings home another dog from the pound. As you could expect, Max and the new dog, Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet), get off on the wrong foot immediately. Through a series of circumstances, Max and Duke become lost in NYC and must learn to get along to survive and make it back home. Meanwhile, Max’s animal friends form a search party to find him.
When all is said and done, there really isn’t a ton of new ground broken with The Secret Life Of Pets. In fact, for the most part, it feels like a derivative copycat of Toy Story. You have a character that loves being his owner’s favorite until another character comes in and threatens his way of life. When the owner goes away, the others come out and show their way of life to the audience. Both of the main characters become lost. They encounter a group of “misfits”. They end up becoming friends and make it back to their owner in the end. There’s even a truck chase in the climax of this film, just like the end of Toy Story. And, just like Toy Story 2, the main characters friends search the city for him. Case and point; this movie is Toy Story with pets.
Max and Duke are incredibly bland characters. I like the actors portraying them but they just aren’t interesting and everything done with them is predictable. However, that isn’t the case with some of the side-characters. These are the characters that make the film more enjoyable than it probably should be. Gidget, (voiced by Jenny Slate), was the biggest surprise to me as she undoubtedly got the most laughs. From the trailers, I thought this character would be played for cuteness but this little Pomeranian gets violent at the drop of a hat. Jenny Slate’s voice was perfect for this character.
And the mark of Jenny Slate being awesome also marks the biggest problem with the movie. When The Secret Life Of Pets focuses on the two main characters, Max and Duke, it’s derivative and boring. However, when the film focuses on the side characters, it’s not only entertaining, it’s hilarious. You have an old paralyzed dog in Pops (voiced by Dana Carvey), a sly and often sarcastic cat in Chloe (voiced brilliantly by Lake Bell) and a cute little bunny who talks jive and delivers death threats in Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart.
Kevin Hart, in particular, had me laughing hysterically for the majority of the movie. It’s just funny watching a cute little bunny rabbit talk about killing humans and leading the underground resistance of animals. In other words, when The Secret Life Of Pets actually focuses on The Secret Life Of Pets, it’s pretty good. I wish the film had revolved more around these side characters. This is where the real comedy gold was. It’s actually hard for me to rack my brain around why they chose such a generic, been there and done that main story for this film.
For example, while the story about the animals looking for Max and Duke isn’t anything special, the animals make it memorable. But even better is the subplot with Snowball and his underground rebellion of animals. Almost very joke to come out of this subplot lands perfectly and the animation is fast paced and fun. It fits the comedy perfectly. Again though, we only see these characters from time to time as the film is too busy pretending its main plot isn’t boring, generic drivel. The animation on all the animals looks great. There are some really nice animated shots of NY and the music choices fit the film well. Any movie that has Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Til’ Brooklyn” playing during a high-speed chase is ok in my book.
Overall, that’s what The Secret Life Of Pets is a pretty ok movie. It’s not that special, that ambitious or even Illumination’s best work. However, it does have a great deal of heart and much of it’s potential does shine through in the subplots. I just wish the main story and main characters had been as fun as everything else. Sadly, it just wasn’t. If you want a movie that will give you some laughs and undoubtedly entertain you and your kids, The Secret Life Of Pets is not a bad place to go. Hell, the movie is already dominating two weeks in a row at the box office so, odds are, you already have. However, if you want to show your kid something with a tad more substance, just show them, Toy Story. They have pretty much the same plot anyway.
- Good Side-Characters
- Good Voice Cast
- Nice Animation
- Some Really Funny Moments
- Too Derivative Of Other Works
- The Main Plotline Is Cookie Cutter & Boring
- The Two Main Characters Are Not Interesting, Nor Is Their Owner.
- Some Seriously Wasted Potential
A graduate of Full Sail University with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing, Adam is a Writer and Film Critic, looking to make his mark on the world. When he isn’t at the movies, writing for The Nerd Stash, playing Duck Hunt (respect the classics) or delivering pizzas to his neighbors, he is back at school earning his Masters Degree in Film Production.