The Secret Life of Pets, 2016.
Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney.
Featuring the voice talents of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, Dana Carvey, Steve Coogan, and Albert Brooks.
A terrier named Max regularly invites his friends to hang out at his place while his owner is gone, but his quiet life is upended when said owner also takes in Duke, a stray mutt whom Max instantly dislikes.
Movie trailers are misleading. It’s just a fact that moviegoers have come to accept. Even more so, we have come to understand that while trailers are not always indicative of what we are about to see, movies must be judged on their own merits. It is a very tough pill to swallow however with The Secret Life of Pets considering that even outside of commercials and TV spots, the film was heavily marketed (I have seen these ads during WWE, baseball games, and more) as an inside fantasy look at what our beloved pets get up to when we are not home. Except that is only the first 10 or so minutes before narratively, it falls into the conventions of most other movies filled with talking animals. In this case, it’s like watching Toy Story with animals.
Now, there are some pros to the film not taking place entirely within the confines of an apartment complex. For starters, even though Illumination (the studio behind those goddamn Minions you can’t spend five minutes in the real world without coming across) have done a solid job rendering the animals (everything from dogs, cats, bunnies, birds and more) with great detail on the fur (especially so when submerged in water and coming out of liquids), and the interiors of the apartment itself, well it would get a little boring if the movie took place in one area. With all of these animals escaping their living quarters, audiences will also get to see incredibly detailed rundown sewers and a vividly colorful take on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The bait and switch marketing could have been forgiven if The Secret Life of Pets itself felt creative enough when the story leaves home. To be fair, the first half is actually very engaging and interesting, as the terrier Max (voiced with deadpan humor and line delivery by Louis C.K.) and his new humongous furry mutt roommate (played by Eric Stonestreet) escape animal control (following being kidnapped for accidentally straying away from their dog walker), come across what is essentially a mob of unwanted animals led by a rabbit (voiced by Kevin Hart, and as you can probably assume, his performance is energetic and most definitely fits animation). Furthermore, for a brief moment the movie also goes to some surprisingly dark places for children, as these betrayed animals actually discuss killing humans, or more specifically, their owners. The movie also does not shy away from showing a death of an animal at all.
There is also another subplot floating around the movie with Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate who was recently in Zootopia), a cat that is blatantly in love with Max, who is again a dog. As this dynamic was introduced, immediately one would think that the filmmakers would use this star-crossed relationship between crossed species as a potential way to say something on inter-gender relationships, or just thematically say anything of social relevance, but it never reaches that point. If anything, it feels like an idea that was never fully fleshed out and made it into the script half-heartedly. Not one other character in the film even mentions that a cat is in love with a dog. On the other side of the coin, maybe that’s the point; that it shouldn’t matter because love is capable of transcending things like race and species so long as it’s consensual. And when you factor in that the animals obviously speak and communicate with each other, it feels okay. Regardless, it’s bizarre there is no acknowledgement.
As mentioned, the second half of the movie feels far less innovative or creative, falling into the narrative traps of every other film ever made about animals getting lost and finding their way home. What I will say is that the performances from the many talented voice actors are engaging throughout, especially Kevin Hart who pretty much puts forth much effort into everything he does. You can absolutely tell he is having a blast doing something different here. Still, the movie will wear down on adults after a while, although children should remain captivated throughout the 90 minute running time.
Also (I won’t touch on this too much because it is somewhat of a silly complaint), some of the action throughout is a bit ludicrous and tough to believe, which is disappointing considering that the movie is called The Secret Life of Pets and wants me to believe that these shenanigans are what my pets get up to when I’m out watching movies for review. Anyone that comes away disappointed by this movie actually has every right to be upset with the marketing tactics, because the trailers promised something much more outside the box and unique. Unfortunately, the best bits are in the trailer and also scattered throughout the first 10 minutes of the movie.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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