This movie is called “The Secret Life of Pets”. One would be forgiven if you believed this movie is about what pets do in secret. But at the end of the movie (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it) there are literally dozens of animals in the middle of a very busy New York City bridge, fighting with one another, and trying to save another animal in an animal control van that dangling on the side of the bridge. So, yeah these events aren’t very secret are they?
All jokes aside, “The Secret Life of Pets” is the latest feature from Illumination Entertainment (a still relative newcomer to the scene of animation). Illumination Entertainment is the same animation studio that has brought us the “Despicable Me” franchise. While I really did enjoy the first two “Despicable Me” films I didn’t really like “The Minions” and really detested their adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax”. So at this point they are a little hit or miss but they are undoubtedly able to create financial hits on the level of other well established and successful animation studios like Pixar, DreamWorks, and Walt Disney Animation Studios. I was actually very excited for “Secret Life of Pets”, the trailers and marketing for the movie have been incredible. It looked funny, cute and sweet all at the same time. This really had the potential to upstage their “Despicable Me” franchise.
However I feel that “The Secret Life of Pets” didn’t make good on its potential. While this movie has its fun moments and genuine laughs (not to mention excellent voice work from the large collective cast) as a whole the movie become a bit of drag in some parts, while some of the side plots not being as interesting or fun as the main one. “Pets” does boast some fantastic animation and is a perfect movie for kids and families. This not only doesn’t live up to Illumination Entertainment’s best animated feature “Despicable Me” but the previous impressive animated films to be released this year (“Zootopia” and “Finding Dory”).
The story of “Secret Life of Pets” follows a small dog named Max (voiced by Louis C.K.). His life is perfect. He lives with his owner Katie in New York City and they are the best of friends. He lives in a building that houses lots of other colorful pets and friends of his. Then his entire life is uprooted when Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) brings home another dog, Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) which instantly starts a rivalry between the two. This rivalry leads them out onto the streets where they get lost far from home. This starts two adventures. One where Max and Duke have to try to find their way back home and another one where all of Max’s friends try to head out into the city to find them.
When watching this movie it’s clear that Illumination Entertainment took some inspiration from the “Toy Story” movies. Once the movie was over you will realize that this did follow similar story beats to each one of the three acclaimed Pixar films. But if you’re going to take inspiration from something, take inspiration from something that works (and we all know “Toy Story” works). As far as the basic premise it works here as well. The wonderful thing about this movie is it does capture a lot of the nuances and strange behaviors that so many of our own pets do. There is a basset hound in this movie (voiced by Dana Carvey) that reminded me so much of one that I used to have as a pet. This movie even reminded me in parts of Disney’s pre-renascence animated film “Oliver and Company” with its weird society of animals and underground strays.
The animation in this movie is top notch. This is the third animated film this year that has floored me in its technical aspects; the other two being “Zootopia” and “Finding Dory” (and the more that I think about it “The Angry Birds Movie” had some really good animation as well). The city feels vibrant, the colors pop onto the screen, and the texture of the animals felt so real (there is a huge viper in the movie that I swear I could also feel its scales). The expressions given to the characters models are also great.
With all that (and not to mention arguably the best voice cast in an animated film this year) why didn’t I love this movie? Well I think this movie goes for a lot of laughs (many of them supplied by Kevin Hart’s deranged Bunny) but I think about only half of them really land. Most of the set pieces that really made me laugh were all in the trailers (not the movie’s fault though) and the rest of the jokes sort of made me chuckle here and there. There was quite a bit of lazy humor as well that are simply recycled from other animated efforts. I also think that the second adventure with Max’s friends going out to save him and Duke just isn’t very fun. Its fine but I kept wanting to get back to Max and Duke. The main thing though I think this movie misses is the emotional beats. There are a few scenes where the filmmakers were going for something heartfelt but it never lands. The movie does struggle to find that emotional center, which hurts the film as a whole.
However all in all it’s an enjoyable little animated movie. It doesn’t reach the potential that it had even with the decent amount of fun and incredible animation that “Pets” supplied. The kids will love it and I’m sure parents will somewhat enjoy this too (especially pet owners) but it didn’t work quite as well for me. I think the gimmick of the movie doesn’t hold up throughout the film (with pets performing incredible feats in the middle of a New York bridge) and ends up being just a fine little animated film instead of a really good one.