THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS
Whenever you have someone producing groundbreaking, innovative work in any field, it’s never long before a competitor arises to challenge them. Usually that competitor is missing something, some crucial element that makes the innovator special. For every N’sync you get The Backstreet Boys, for every Britney Spears you get a Christina Aguilera, for every 98° you get an LFO… I’m not sure why I went directly to late 90’s teen pop stars, but there you go. Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that the current top dog when it comes to computer animation is unequivocally Pixar Animation Studios, so of course someone must challenge them, and lately their most consistent competitor has been Illumination; the people that produced the surprisingly strong ‘Despicable Me’ and it’s not so strong spinoff ‘Minions’. Illumination’s latest release is ‘The Secret Life of Pets’, which could basically be summed up as ‘Toy Story’ for dogs.
‘SLOP’ stars standup megastar Louis C.K. as Max, the beloved pet of Katie; a single female dog lover living in New York City. Max and Katie’s life together is perfect except for one thing: everyday Katie leaves; where she goes and what she does is a mystery to Max who spends his time dutifully waiting by the door for her. One day Katie comes home a bit later than usual, and with her is a brand new dog: Duke, voiced by ‘Modern Family’s’ Eric Stonestreet. Max doesn’t take too kindly to a new dog getting in between him and Katie and the two find themselves at loggerheads for her attention. Inevitably their feud goes too far and through some unfortunate mishaps the pair find themselves in the hands of animal control—then in the hands of a murderous bunny and his posse of pets bent on a revolution to overthrow their human masters.
Kevin Hart voices the bunny, Snowball: the former rabbit in the hat for a struggling magician. Snowball, cast aside by his master, formed a coalition of forgotten animals that dwell in the sewers beneath the city. He takes Max and Duke under his wing, but when he discovers that the two are actually domesticated he turns on them, hunting them as the two dogs struggle to get back to their master.
It’s around that last part that ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ goes off the rails.
The initial setup of ‘SLOP’ is promising. Max and the colorful cast of pets that occupy his apartment building each have their own unique quirks that are sure to delight pet owners everywhere. Unfortunately, rather than following their premise through (where their owners go everyday) in a logical manner, the film goes off on a weird, dark tangent (the pet revolution) and it never quite finds its way back. What starts as a wholesome family movie soon gives way to light prison humor and deliberations on owner murder. I wouldn’t recommend this movie for the youngest set.
The film also suffers from a few aimless moments; scenes full of sound and color that don’t add up to much. Either the filmmakers didn’t have enough confidence in the narrative or they were struggling for content to pad out the runtime to feature length. Either way, it’s an aspect of the film that might make it difficult for some parents to sit through.
However, all is not lost in ‘The Secret Life of Pets’. Despite its tonal issues the film does provide a steady stream of laughs, and, rather irreverently, they’re delivered by a cast of popular standup comedians that include the aforementioned Hart and C.K, as well as Hannibal Buress, Jenny Slate, and even veterans Albert Brooks and Dana Carvey. Much like ‘Despicable Me’ the film is helped along by a great soundtrack that includes singles from popular artists like Taylor Swift and Pharrell Williams. It even features a few acts you wouldn’t expect to find in a children’s film like System of a Down and Nappy Roots.
‘The Secret Life of Pets’ isn’t a bad movie, but one can’t help but wonder what it could’ve been in the hands of someone else; namely the distinguished competition. It’s clear that the film could’ve used a few rewrites. Rather than fixing any shortcomings, the filmmakers simply lean on their catchy soundtrack and charismatic cast as a crutch. With that said, there are worse things to lean on and there’s enough here to keep older children and their parents occupied.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5