The Secret Life of Pets - Review
2016 has seen some of the best animated films of the decade with films like Zootopia and Finding Dory, so how does Illumination Entertainment's newest animal themed comedy stack up to the competition?
The Secret Life of Pets focuses less on the question its title suggests, and more on the adventures the cast of animals get themselves into. The first few minutes of the film are some of the best, as it introduces us to the pets we will be following throughout the course of the film in a fun way, by showing us exactly what they do when left home alone. Unfortunately, for anyone who has seen the trailer, this will all be old news, as the two scenes are practically identical. The rest of the film follows three main story arcs, the most poignant of which is the pet's quest to find the lost dog, Max, voiced by Louie C.K. Their story is the most interesting because it brings together several different types of pets, allowing for a greater sense of diversity than with the other stories. The adventures of Max and his unwanted companion, Duke, is given the most screen time, and feels laden with ok ideas that could have been great. At certain times, I could feel the film setting up a scene where a pet would experience the permanent loss of an owner, but it instead opted to brush aside death as just a set up for the next joke. The final storyline centers around a group of unwanted pets that were thrown away by their owners. While there are certainly plenty of these animals, they all act exactly the same, giving little diversity to the group. The leader of the group is a cute little white rabbit named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), who is actually much more deadly than his appearance lets on. This has got to be the most overused trope in all of animated films; a cute character (usually a bunny) that is hiding evil intentions. This year's Zootopia used a similar idea, but instead made the wise decision to keep the character a minor one. The Secret Life of Pets pushes Snowball and his gang to the forefront, giving us a bit too much of the killer bunny and his comrades.
The Secret Life of Pets is full of iconic voices, including Louie C.K., Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper (Erin in The Office), and Jenny Slate. Louie C.K. definitely brings a lot of charm to the role of Max, playing the dog more like a person than a pet. Fans of the TV show Louie will likely enjoy his performance, even though it is very toned down, and noticeably more positive than C.K. is known to be. The other highlight is Jenny Slate (Mona Lisa Saperstein on Parks and Recreation) as Gidget, the adorable girl dog vying for Max's heart. Her high pitch voice fits well with the character, and her character is easily one of the best parts of the film. She exhibits the most real growth, going from a timid house pet to a butt-kicking force of nature by the end of the film. The rest of the voice talent is serviceable, but don't quite come close to the high bar of voice talent set by this year's animated films.
If you aren't a fan of the art style of the Despicable Me movies and last year's Minions, you likely won't enjoy The Secret Life of Pets. While there certainly is plenty to like stylistically, there is also a lot that feels copy and pasted from other films. One scene in particular takes place in a sausage factory where Max and Duke find themselves, where the dogs hallucinate the sausages having silly faces and willingly jumping into their mouths, while singing "We Go Together" from the Grease soundtrack. While this scene is funny in theory, it comes across as stale, and just fluff to space out the big events of the film. The movie certainly isn't bad looking, but it certainly doesn't pop the way recent films have. Illumination Entertainment's first films, Despicable Me 1 and 2, were some of the most original and visually stimulating animated movies I have seen, which makes me question what happened with The Secret Life of Pets and, subsequently, last year's Minions.
The Secret Life of Pets doesn't quite stand up to the high bar of animated films set this year, but it does offer the occasional laugh and a chance to see some actors in a new light.
Pros- Voice Cast, Gidget's Journey
Cons- Uninspired Story, Overused Tropes, Sometimes Bland Animation