The Secret Life of Pets movie full length review - The Secret Life of Pets
Let's face it, we as pet owners have always wondered what our furry friends are up to when we're not home. It's an idea that has been played around with for years, from Tom and Jerry to Phineas and Ferb.
As ideas go, it isn't original, but the possibilities it can bring are endless. When Illumination Entertainment, the French animation studio behind monster hits such as Despicable Me and Minions (the first non-Disney animated film to earn a billion worldwide) launched a teaser trailer documenting the mischief pets get up to, curiosities were peaked. The world cried in unison; what does this animation studio think pets do? We already have pets as spies, pets being obsessive compulsive mouse hunters, and pets finding their way home. There is still so much one can do with this age old trope, if one is clever enough. What we got, is a beautifully animated flick with plenty of humour and good spirits that packs too much into its run time that has good intentions, despite borrowing heavily from a certain 1990s film.
The film opens with our protagonist, Max (Louis C.K.), a Jack Russell Terrier living in New York City with his owner, Katie. Max, like any terrier, is full of beans and love for his master; Illumination got the happy go lucky attitude of the Jack Russell down perfectly. They also got the territorial side, for when Katie brings home a Newfoundland mix named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), Max is less than impressed. Not wanting his perfect life torn upside down by the hairy interloper, Max tries his darndest to get rid of him, leading, of course, to the pair getting whisked away by the pound when Duke tries to dispose of Max. Naturally, the pooches must cope with each other and find their way home, but not without obstacles; underneath the belly of NYC is an underground secret society of abandoned and unwanted animals, led by the not so cuddly rabbit, Snowball (Kevin Hart). Due to accidentally offing a valuable member of the society, Snowball and his henchmen swear vengeance on our furry duo. While all this madness is afoot, a Pomeranian named Gidget, who has a major crush on Max, enlists the help of all their animal neighbours to save him.
The main issue of the film, and it's a biggie, is that it's Toy Story with pets. There's no sugar coating it. The main species has a social circle that their owners aren't aware of. The main character loves his owner so much, and is insanely jealous when they bring home someone new. When one is trying to get rid of the other, they end up far away from home, and have to find their way back. They even have elements of Toy Story 2 and 3; friends coming together to find the main character, and a seemingly cute antagonist causing chaos. The only real original element is that the animals have their own language; they don't harbour the ability to speak to humans. Despite this, the film isn't a dud. By now, you've already heard from many sources about the parallels with Toy Story, and, if you're open minded, can enjoy the film for what it is; a slapstick comedy with talking animals. It doesn't remove the issue, but it allows one to see the effort the creators put in to the rest of the film.
The animation is fantastic; the textures and anatomy of the animals, while stylised, is still very true to what it represents. The look and feel of New York is large in scale and immensely colourful. The characters look like they have weight to them, that despite their cartoony appearance, they could be real animals. The characters are likable and cute, with the actors making them sound like they are animals; in better terms, you believe they are animals, not animals being voiced by humans. I don't know how they managed that, but they did.
What little character development is present it given to Max and Duke, with the latter having a genuinely heartbreaking moment which is sadly glanced over, and thrown aside. There is so much life and likability here. The only issue with character, is that there's too many to remember, and not enough time to get to know them. It's a good thing when you want to see more of the characters, but it also gives glaring warning signs: an inevitable sequel. Or perhaps, that may be a good thing. For this film, despite its flaws, seems like it could be the precursor to a creative franchise. There is so much that can be done with these characters, and with this world, that a sequel would be welcomed. The only issue is, would it be milked to the death like the poor Minions?
The jokes are mostly funny, with some misses; there is a jab at YouTube cat videos that will forever be relevant, and the metal loving poodle is amazing. The little quirks that the animators and actors gave the animals are fantastic, such as the dogs having short attention spans, and the cat sitting in too small containers. There's a lot for pet owners to relate to, especially in the ending.
It may be a mixed bag, but it's a good, likable one. The Secret Life of Pets had potential to be amazing, and still has potential to become a creative, lasting franchise. This beautiful film is plenty of bark, with little bite. If you leave without a smile on your face, then you were clearly neutered.