“The Secret Life of Pets” follows a group of pets looking for their lost friend, Max. (Photo Courtesy of Xuka.tv)
If you’ve watched any of the Olympic Trials this Summer (or have seen any family films in the past six months), you’ve likely been inundated with advertisements for Universal’s animated film The Secret Life of Pets. The marketing has sold Pets as an animated comedy for the whole family—and especially pet lovers—can enjoy. Although the film doesn’t quite live up to the hype, it’s far from being another disappointment from Illumination Studios, such as Despicable Me 2 and Minions.
The Secret Life of Pets follows a group of pets living in the same New York apartment complex. Loyal terrier Max (Louis C.K.) loves his life and his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). Shortly after Katie brings home the stay dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet), however, the two find themselves separated from Katie and lost in the big city. Because Katie has left to somewhere unbeknownst to her pets and the audience, it’s up to Max’s neighbor—the dog Gidget (Jenny Slate)—to lead a team of neighborhood pets to find Max before their owners get home. What follows is a series of absurd and highly entertaining shenanigans as the pets attempt to rescue Max and Duke from dog-catchers, a vengeful rabbit, and otherwise being lost in the big city.
To date, Pets is the best reviewed film from Illumination Entertainment since their first first installment (210’s Despicable Me, 82% of on Rotten Tomatoes). Considering the fact that Illumination’s catalogue includes Minions, The Lorax, and Hop, it’s not a stretch to declare The Secret Life of Pets as Illumination’s best film since Despicable Me.
Although Pets can’t honestly be called a great film, there’s a lot to enjoy for everyone—especially pet lovers. Pets—by their natures—tend to have very simple motivations for their actions. For perhaps that very reason, he characters of Max, Duke, Gidget, Chloe the cat (Lake Bell), and Snowball the rabbit (Kevin Hart), are all fairly one-dimensional. While definitely a strike against the film’s quality, the flat characterizations fit the film’s style and tone. For example, Chloe is memorable, charming, and funny, because her mannerisms match perfectly for those of a typical cat; however, the fact that she is a lazy cat is basically the beginning and end of her character. Besides, the simplistic characterizations create ample opportunity for comedic situations and clever gags. This film is absolutely hysterical at times. The comedic timing is reminiscent of the best physical comedic bits featuring the Minions.
In fact, when the film is going for laughs, the characters are animated almost exactly like the Minions at their slapsticky best. This style choice acts as a double-edged sword; the funnier the gags are, the stranger it seems to see common house pet—with known characteristics and mannerisms—moving and behaving like the Minions.
The film’s cast is great, and each voice actor portrays their character well. Unfortunately, story is highly predictable and the characters themselves are little more than archetypes.
Quality-wise, Pets as an overall film is just better than mediocre. As a fun comedy for the whole family (mostly kids), however, The Secret Life of Pets excels.