When the trailers started showing for The Secret Life of Pets, I was immediately hooked by its promise of hilarious visual comedy. Household pets are seen passing the time during their owners’ workday by getting together for parties, using human-intended appliances for their own daffy purposes, partaking in the ultimate refrigerator raid… And what’s not to love about an uppity-voiced dog owner leaving classical music on for his poodle, only to have said poodle switch over to System of a Down’s “Bounce” and headbanging furiously to the crunch? That bit alone had me rolling with laughter and wanting to see the trailer again right away; when it was featured on the Minions Blu-Ray release, I got my wish.
However, that’s the purpose of trailers – to hook you with the best bits of a film so you’ll go see it. So here’s my advice: find the trailer for The Secret Life of Pets on YouTube and watch that until you’ve had enough. Forget it – I’ll do the work for you. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-80SGWfEjM. This 160-second slice of the movie lies entirely in the first five minutes of the film itself. Disappointingly, it has no bearing on what you’ll see afterward, the majority of which is the stock-standard type of children’s film which Fight Club’s Tyler Durden likes to alter in his own special way. (“So when the snooty cat and the courageous dog with the celebrity voices meet for the first time in reel three…”)
Once we get past the cute introduction to the pet world, we’re stuck riding out the rest of the film with the getting-to-know-you-gone-wrong kind of film. You know the kind – established pet meets a new interloper who instantly proves to be his undoing. It’s Toy Story, but with animals. Covering the Woody role is comedian Louis C.K., a Jack Russell Terrier named Max who’s very protective of his environment and his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), with whom he shares a New York City apartment. He’s got friends and his routines with Katie, and he’s even got a Pomeranian – Gidget (Jenny Slate) – across the way who spends her days swooning over the mere sight of him.
Max has got his world pretty much on lock until Katie brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a shaggy Newfoundland who quickly takes over everything Max holds dear – his food, his bed, and his owner’s love. Duke is written as a little bit of a milquetoast, slightly confused by his size and his whereabouts; he doesn’t do these things to Max out of malice, but because he’s got nowhere else to go. Of course, the lack of understanding and tolerance on Max’s part leads to a harebrained scheme to rid his life of Duke, which leads to both of them in trouble, off their leashes, and without any help.
Not only are they being hunted by Animal Control for being loose, they also happen upon a congregation of sewer-bound animals called The Flushed Pets who have vowed to destroy humans for turning their backs on them. They are the abandoned, the ones thrown away when their callous owners just didn’t want them anymore. Moreover, they have directed some of that hate toward domesticated animals, and guess who just landed in their meeting space? Meanwhile, a group of Max’s friends led by Gidget, having gotten wind of their predicament, mount a rescue mission for Max and Duke.
Like I said – it’s Toy Story, the animal version, but without Joss Whedon’s snappy writing and the magic of Pixar behind it; seriously, I’m thinking the creative team behind Toy Story should sue. There’s nothing here to write home about, outside of what I’ve already mentioned, and there are far better-animated films out there. Even the Mower Minions short preceding the film looks amazing compared to this. For a film from Illusion Entertainment, I’d expect a higher level of animation than the kind given to Gidget, who looks straight out of a Charles M. Shultz “Peanuts” comic. Not meaning to insult “Peanuts” at all, but it’s rather dissonant when we see every animal with articulate features, and Gidget’s eyes are just pencil marks amidst her white head.
The requisite amount of owner guilt is also heaped upon the audience as we see Duke’s origins from beloved puppy to Animal Control rescue dog. And the owner-shaming doesn’t stop there – a whole cabal of animals given to the wilds of New York City are there to remind us of our abdicated responsibility to our non-human companions. Very little of the film shows the joy of pet ownership, choosing instead to adopt a preachy, finger-wagging tone while ducking behind stereotypes – the floozy female; the small rabbit with the big, urban voice; dumb Animal Control workers who seem to barely function on an adult level; and many more stupid-in-the-name-of-cute kind of figures. Then again, the movie’s called The Secret Life of Pets, so we’re not going to see a lot of happy pet owners. All we’re stuck with is a host of annoying animals who sound like actors aching for a paycheck.
» MOVIE REVIEWS » The Secret Life of Pets
Albert Brooks, animated film, Bobby Moynihan, Brian Lynch, Chris Renaud, Cinco Paul, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper, Eric Stonestreet, Hannibal Buress, Illumination Entertainment, Jenny Slate, Ken Daurio, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Louis CK, Minions, Movie Review, Steve Coogan, System of a Down, The Secret Life of Pets, Universal Pictures, Yarrow Cheney